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Q, December 1997
We Have Come For Your Children

We Have Come For Your Children

The Spice grip tightens. Nations and markets previously immune to their yelling, pointing, and possibly even their singing, have succumbed. So why are they suddenly being so elusive? "The Spice Girls are a fucking influence on your future", they inform Adrian Deevoy.

Oh dear. Like guests whoíve trodden mud into the house, Q have arrived at the Spice Girlsí South of France bolt-hole to the incomplete delight of our hostesses. Despite their record companyís arrangement of a flight to Nice and a long drive to this residential rehearsal complex-cum-villa, they havenít been told weíre coming, and Mel Brown, Mel Chisholm, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell and Victoria Adams all sport the glow and dishevelment of the very recently exercised. Wrestling polite smiles onto shiny visages, they poo-poo our blushes, and agree to a shoot the next morning, when they perform gamely amid the foliage for the Q lens. This is Spice Camp, where the five media megaliths, under an almost military regime, are rehearsing for their first ever live concert. Tearful tales of ruthless make-up rationing and violent vocal exercises have filtered home as distressed relatives vainly scan the newspapers for reassuring signs of Spice life. Having survived admirably without the oxygen of publicity for a month, representatives of the Spice Girls have invited Q down to Spice Camp since the girls, it is said, would like to talk about music. This seems like an excellent idea. Q can barely wait to argue the toss with Posh over Captain Beefheartís best album.

Yet even as, on Gallic soil, Q photographs are being completed, it is learned that the talking part of our Spice Girls encounter (deemed an integral part of most interviews) is to be postponed. Virgin Records, their label, are perplexed. They would dearly love the Spice Girls to meet Q (ultimately, they do) and proceed so determinedly that the whole affair shifts from arranged marriage to shotgun wedding. After two weeks of polite petition and flat refusal, Virgin pull rank and insist the meeting takes place. Their call isnít even returned. When youíve sold 18 million copies of your first album, you can, apparently, afford to behave like this. In the meantime, Q suggests a rendezvous with the songwriting and production team Richard Stannard and Matt Rowe who provide the musical accompaniment to the Spice Girlsí thought-provoking lyrics.Perhaps they would like to guide us through the construction of Wannabe, 2 Become 1 or Mama in order to give some insight into their working methods. After lengthy deliberation, they decide that they wouldnít. As negotiations and relations crumble, two words begin to surface with frustrating regularity. They are Simon and Fuller. Fuller is the Spice Girlsí manager, the silent but all-powerful sixth member of the ensemble: Strategic Spice.

There is no disputing Fullerís revolutionary management approach. He has single-handedly masterminded his groupís rise to global ubiquity, controlling all aspects of marketing and media in a fashion that would render Colonel Tom Parker, Brian Epstein and Albert Grossman speechless. And while he is neither a shadow strewn cat-stroker nor a promoter-torturing megalomaniac, his methods have certainly been inscrutable. "Simon is very Japanese in his business dealings," says an associate of the Hastings-born 36-year-old who also represents the slightly less successful Annie Lennox and Cathy Dennis. "When you meet him he is perfectly pleasant and agreeable. He will listen and nod and take everything you say on board, then he will very courteously say goodbye and go and do exactly what he intended to do before he met you. He has his own agenda and no-one is going to change that." As Fuller rarely grants interviews even declining a flattering request from Forbes business magazine after they estimated that he had earned the Spice Girls 30 million pounds it is often difficult to fathom his reasoning. Q offers to take him for a cup of tea and a fondant fancy. Surprisingly, he responds promptly, agreeing to "a chat, nothing formal". Then he goes and falls as silent as his charges.

This silence is finally broken when Geri Halliwell suddenly calls one evening from Paris. The normally ebullient Ginger Spice is quiet, almost reflective. She puts this, and her Denim-for-men huskiness, down to having just woken up, but she sounds shattered and never quite gets up to full Spice speed. This doesnít sounds like the woman who pinched Prince Charlesís arse and declared it to be "wobbly".

Rehearsals, she confirms, have been tough, particularly for her as she is not a natural singer or trained dancer. She witters amusingly about the recently completed film Spiceworld - The Movie, a comedy romp already dubbed A Hard Dayís Spice. "It takes the piss out of Britain and it takes the piss out of the media big time," she cackles. She enthuses about Spiceworld the album, detailing the mood and motivation of the 10 new songs. But surely, you interrupt, the Spice Girls could have put out any old crap and it would have sold shedloads to infants.

"Weíd never put out crap," she says briskly. "If anything, I think our expectations were higher. Itís only natural that weíve moved on. This time we could really trip out on the ideas we had. We wanted to do a Motown song and a big band song and because weíve been successful we could put more money into the recording and really live out these musical fantasies. We had a full-on orchestra, everything."

Whoís the best singer in the Spice Girls?

Geri: It depends what you want. If you want to chill out, Emmaís voice is really soothing. For a more raunchy thing, if you want to get down, Mel C and Mel B can really belt it out and Victoria is amazing live.

Do you like the sound of your own singing voice?

Geri:I donít know. I personally donít think Iím a fantastic singer. I sing with enthusiasm, do you know what I mean? Iím not very technical and I havenít had a lot of training but when I sing a song, my little bit, I really mean it and to me thatís what counts.

Do you know how rich you are?

Geri:Yes. Rich. Fucking rich. And Iím rich in luurve. Money is really all relative. I live exactly the same but on a different level. Money and fame is great but if youíre unhappy it isnít enough. You just want more and more, thinking it will eventually make you happy and it doesnít, you have to be happy within yourself.

Are British taxes too high?

Geri:They are a little bit, I have to say. But then I was on the dole for five years so Iím glad we have a tax system because they subsidised me when I had no money.

But arenít you taking this next year out of Britain to avoid the high level of taxation?

Geri:If we werenít doing a world tour I wouldnít have done the year out. I love Britain to death.

All your fans are four-year-olds. Discuss.

Geri:People say that. Oh, all your fans are four-year-olds... fuck off! I donít give a fuck if our fans are four or 40. Iím very proud if theyíre four. A four-year-old isnít corrupted by any outside influence. They donít care whatís cool, theyí re not conditioned by society. They have the purest train of though - they like it because they like it. I like kids and theyíre our future and thatís pretty mad if you think about it. The Spice Girls are having a fucking influence on your future.

Thatís a very frightening thought.

Geri:Very frightening.

The following week, Q is invited to Southern Spain to meet the other Spice Girls - Los Chicetas Picantes, as the cheeky Spanish nom de nick has it - and to celebrate the launch of Spiceworld at the glorious Alhambra Palace set high in the hills of Granada. Itís a culture clash to cherish: a thousand years of Moorish decadence meets 18 months of Girl Power. There are several theories as to why the Alhambra has been chosen for the occasion: one is that the bewitching fortress is an impossibly romantic setting; the over-refreshed man from Billboard insists on a complex hypothesis that involves Bill Clinton, a left-wing council and the Andalucian sunsets; another popular notion is that "Geriís got a bit of Spanish in her".

The less than intoxicating truth, however, is that their debut album has sold one million copies in Spain this making it the most fertile Spice-selling territory after the UK and America.

Amid the mild-mannered mayhem of the Spice Girlsí press conference, Simon Fuller stands anonymously among the worldís media wearing a loose shirt and an expression of absolute serenity. Later he strolls the corridors, curiously at ease in this secretive citadel which has witnessed teeth-curling scenes of treachery and lechery, buggery and skulduggery. Fuller is an odd-looking fellow, his costly-but-casual togs, raven black hair and tangerine skin tone lending him the appearance of Captain Scarlet on his summer holidays. The Girls joke about their managerís frankly unnatural tan ("You know when youíve been Tangoed!") but when called upon to seriously analyse his contribution, a Moonie-like mist of near-religious reverence descends. "A very good friend," is the universal verdict. A manager of incomparable acumen, runs a close second. "Heís like a very intelligent little Buddha," Halliwell decides. "Really, really honest," says Victoria. He never raises his voice, Chisholm marvels, even when everyone around him is hysterical.

Doesnít he have any faults? "Heís always trying to take us out to eat fattening food and drink wine," Bunton complains good-naturedly. But surely they argue? "No, Iíd never tell him to piss off," scolds Adams. "If he said something that I didnít agree with Iíd be upfront about it. Weíre not afraid of each other or anyone else. Simon can deal with anybody. Heís good at that type of thing. Very good at psychology."

Ask Halliwell what Fuller has that their first, swiftly jettisoned management team Bob and Chris Herbert lacked and she says one word. "Substance." After a pensive pause she adds, "There are so many wanky managers out there. They take the piss, donít look after the artists and I just think God, thank you that we have such a great manager." The only dissenting voice comes from Brown. "Thereís two sides to everybody, isnít there?" she says cautiously. "Simon has a responsibility for telling us that we are famous and we have to be careful what we do. We sometimes forget that if we walk outside we might get attacked. Heís good at reminding us about that and sometimes thatís a pain in the arse." Fullerís most recent signing to the Spice first team is the lawyer Gerrard Tyrrell. If you knock out knock-off Spice Girls gear, or run an iffy story with unapproved pictures, heíll nail you. This morning, the genial trouble-shooter has spent a profitable couple of hours in the Spanish sunshine purchasing bootleg Spice Girls videos from unofficial merchandisers. "This one is terrible," he says, disdainfully fingering a tape entitled Spice Power. "Itís just shots of Victoriaís house and Mel Bís old school. Complete rubbish." This afternoon, he says with just the merest hint of glee, he will injunct them. Tyrrell is not known as "that bastard" in criminal circles for nothing. Yet when it is put to Chisholm that Tyrrell has become an essential cog in the Spice Girls machine she becomes almost heated. "Heís not part of the equation," she points out spikily. "Heís someone we employ. Thereís us five and Simon. We do our music and he manages us and thatís it."

The Spice Girls do their music and music is what they want to talk about. As one of their many publicists froths, "Theyí ve been thinking about it all week." "Music," announces Chisholm, without any detectable irony, "is my first love." Halliwell, Bunton reports breathless, is even learning to play the guitar. Ask them about their earliest music memories and youíll hear names as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Neneh Cherry, Bucks Fizz, Bobby Brown, Matt Goss, Julio Iglesias and Johann Strauss. Brown raves knowledgeably about Roni Size and Tracy Chapman because "she sings deep song about life." Adams is a fan of "dirty soul music" and thinks Paul McCartney is "really lovely". Halliwell reckons her favourite piece of music is The Blue Danube. "Danananana nur-na, nur na," she croaks for those unfamiliar with the tune. Chisholm can argue a convincing case for Blurís latest album.

You recorded some of Spiceworld at Abbey Road. Did you find yourselves awash in musical nostalgia? Adams: Because itís really famous and everything I imagined it to be really old and a bit grubby but itís really nice and clean. And we were actually in the same studio where The Beatles recorded some tracks. And Oasis. It was a good feeling.

Is writing lyrics en masse difficult?

Brown: A lot of people seem to think that, but to me five heads are better than one. And that way, itís more democratic, you donít go up your own arse.

What makes a successful Spice Girl lyric?

Bunton: I really like things that have hidden messages. Even something like "zig-a-zig ah" on Wannabe. I remember when we wrote that because weíd all been out the night before, and we came the next day and we were still a bit drunk and one of us actually said that. I canít remember who it was but we all thought it would make a good lyric. Good job we did really, wasnít it?

Name a song with a really great lyric.

Bunton: Zoom by Fat Larryís Band.

What, "Zoom and my head went boom"?

Bunton: Alright. Maybe itís not the lyrics but the melody is brilliant.

Adams: I really hate Love Shack by the B-52s. Thatís my worst song. Itís just crap. Itís really irritating. All falsely happy.

In a broader musical sense, are you more Mick or Keef kind of girls?

Brown: Mick because he gives it a hell of a lot on stage. I like someone who can really let themselves go. Lenny Kravitz can do that as well. And he looks fucking excellent. And I really adore Marianne Faithfull. God, she went through a lot of shit, didnít she? Iíve read her biography as well. Great woman.

Were you ever into Captain Beefheart?

Adams: No. Captain who?

Got a favourite Hawkwind album?

Bunton: I donít think so. What were they, Ď70s?

How about Gong?

Chisholm: Is that an indie band?

What do you know about the Grateful Dead?

Halliwell: Thatís old Jerry whatsisname, isnít it? Who died recently. Two or three years ago. If you played me one of their records I might recognise it but I wouldnít know one by name.

Were you gutted when The Smiths split up?

Adams: I havenít heard of them either. Were they cool? Because Iím just not very cool.

Did the Stone Roses do the right thing in calling it a day when they did?

Bunton: They were indie, werenít they? What songs did they do?

What, for your money, is Hendrixís best solo?

Brown: Iíve never really been a big fan of his. I like some of the guitar on The Doorís records though, that can get pretty wild. And I read Jim Morrisonís biography. No-One Here Gets Out Alive. I really liked that. He was crazy but you could understand were old Jim was coming from in a sick way.

Saturday, October 11: The smog-swamped, grid-locked bumhole that will forever be Istanbul. Unbelievably, this is where the Spice Girls are to play their first ever live concert. The day before, The Financial Times runs an article examining the levels of marketing activity around the group. By Christmas there will be official Spice Girls clothing, dolls, chocolate bars, bed linen, crockery, cameras, deodorants, crisps, biscuits and balloons. Asda have paid them 1 million pounds and they are currently renegotiating with Pepsi, presumably upping last yearís fabled 5 million pounds deal. The FT asks if such a vigorous image-milking will result in a rapid career burn-out. Halliwell is straight on the defensive. "Itís easy to be cynical and go, Ah, you fucking sell-out, and all that," she sneers. "I mean, they do give you a wad of money, Iíd be a complete liar if I said they didnít, but none of the collaborations weíve done are stupid. Think about it. Pepsi are worldwide. From Timbuktu to Afghanistan everyone knows Pepsi and our name is now associated with that. Theyíve financed setting up our tour and thatís the most expensive part. Walkers is a brilliant advertisement for us as well. Thereís nothing negative about crisps, do you know what I mean? Apart from if you eat too many they make you fat." Does she know how much she personally received for the Pepsi commercials? "Yeah, I do. But I canít tell you." Once again conjecture is rife as to the choice of city. All speculation subsides when we learn that the charmless Turkish capital is one of the few cities in the world where Pepsi outsells Coca-Cola. Cold commercial considerations dictate that the Spice Girls find themselves playing their inaugural show in a hateful concrete khazi that makes one yearn for the womb-like warmth of Birmingham NEC. The Spice Girls are not a life-reappraising live proposition. They give it their all, but the abiding impression is of an over ambitious school play. For the first three numbers they look terrified and any notions of spontaneity are trampled beneath the jackboot of pointlessly complex choreography. Six songs in and they just look shagged out. The two Mels are the uncontested stars. Chisholm has a strident, if intermittently reedy, soul shout on her and tackles all the tricky topend licks with laudable aplomb. Brown stomps, shimmies and drop-kicks with such unstinting gusto it is difficult not to love her for it.

Halliwell gallumphs around the set in impractical footwear providing seaside postcard sauce and exuding what the local Turkish paper describes as "bubbly feminism". Buntonís wispy vocal offers soft contrast to Chisholm but tends to get lost in the mix.

But by far the most gratifying set is that of Adams, decked out in a black rubber catsuit, dancing in the manner of a disgruntled giraffe and sweating like a race horseís knackers. "Weíll have to sort out a wind machine for Victoria," laughs an unsympathetic Spice staffer after the show. "But it was good to see her earning her money."

There are minor highlights: Stop, their new Motown homage, is superb; for Naked, the quintet disrobe and straddle back-to-front chairs, sexily assuming the Christine Keeler position; during Move Overís frenetic guitar solo Halliwell rolls on the floor like a ketamined Teletubby.

On the downside: there is none of the anarchic larking we have come to cherish; some of the harmonies actually hurt, and Wannabe is not a song designed for a live band. When the seven-piece session man scrum steam in it dies like a louse in a Russianís beard. And thatís not what you really, really want. But who needs to be the greatest band in the world when you can be the greatest brand?

What would you do if it ended tomorrow?

Halliwell: It will have to be something I feel passionate about. I love writing but then Iíd like to do something, dare I say it, political. Not party political but something that makes a difference.

Chisholm: In an ideal world Iíd like to go on forever but Iím not that naive. I know I canít but I donít think I can do anything else so Iíll always want to perform. Iíll never give up. Iíll one of those saddos whoís always trying to make a comeback.

Donít you get sick of being a Spice Girl?

Adams: Sometimes when you get up really early in the morning I think Iíd like to be Sporty Spice because itís cold on the aeroplane and youíd like to put a tracksuit on. But give me a night out or a TV appearance and Iím gagging to put my little skirt and high heels on.

Do people resent you?

Adams: Well someone threw a brick at my car the other day so you could say that was resentful, I suppose.

Who do you think will be the first mother in the group?

Brown: Thatís a weird question. I donít know. God. I canít imagine any of us pregnant ...itís probably going to be me. Time will tell.

Halliwell: It certainly wonít be me. It would have to be the immaculate bloody conception. I havenít had sex for nine months. Longer! Havenít you read the papers?

"Weíll give it a year," has become a familiar music business refrain when the Spice subject is raised. One has to wonder whether they can survive the wholesaling of the group name. But that may well be part of the plan. It could be that Fuller intends to wrap the entire project up after the world tour (indeed, it is rumoured that Fullerís management contract comes up for renewal next year). How many people, after all, will be clamouring for a third Spice Girls album? Despite promises to the contrary, Q never achieves congress with the shy svengali so these, and many other questions, go unanswered. But what of the Spice Girls themselves? "We are so fucking realistic," boasts Halliwell, "we talk about everything. Weíve always looked at our predecessors and tried to work out what went wrong with various bands, why they split up. Weíve always been totally cool with each other about what we want to do. If Victoria said she wanted to go and be an astronaut we would all think that was totally cool. So, yes, we have talked about splitting up. But do you think Iím going to tell you what we said? I donít think so!" Could Brown ever imagine a Spice Girl leaving and going solo? "Definitely," she says without hesitation, then checks herself. "But not at the moment. Weíve got a world tour to do and the whole of next year. But you canít stay in a group forever. Some things have to move on."

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