Thereza Bazar: 'This is my Dollar, doing it my way'

Thereza Bazar has teamed up with Stephen Fox in a new version of Dollar.
Thereza Bazar has teamed up with Stephen Fox in a new version of Dollar.

“It was a miserable February day and he said, ‘Just put the kettle on and have a cup of tea, and maybe have a chocolate biscuit’ and I said, ‘I actually don’t want to have a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit, I want to go outside and I can’t.’ I felt so cooped up I just couldn’t function, and that was it. (Suddenly it felt like) ‘I think I know where I will settle down permanently to the end of my days, but I will come back and forth as long as I can’.”

The move was not quite as impulsive as it might seem. Bazar had previously “run away” to Australia in 1988 after splitting with Dollar partner David Van Day when their mini revival, thanks to a cover of the Erasure song O L’Amour, ran out of steam. “I literally ran for the hills,” she says. “I could have gone and meditated in an Indian village for a few months, that would probably have been a better outcome, but I had family in Sydney and I came to visit and it was just so far away.

“I remember the sky was so big and so blue, I thought I could actually breathe. Then I came back for a stint in 2011. For years I lived in London and it really did my head in. I just thought it was so easy to straddle the continents and it didn’t ever bother me, but I guess as you get a bit older, you have to make a decision.”

This month, Bazar returns to the UK with a rebooted version of Dollar. Joining her is Stephen Fox, who has previously worked with Cheryl Baker, Jay Aston and Mike Nolan in Bucks Fizz. The pair briefly worked together for one show in 2019. “I was just curious to do a different show, me being me for once, and that was like a proper chat show that is so fashionable now,” she explains. “Lots of musical interludes but a lot of chat and being very open and honest. A history of my life in a way, telling things that I’ve never spoken about to people who might be interested, and with lots of musical anecdotes in the middle. Julie (Forsyth) and Martine (Howard) from Guys ’n’ Dolls (the group that Bazar was a member of in the mid 1970s) came and we did an unplugged set and Stephen came and sang with me for a few of the Dollar songs and it was really good.

“I thought I learnt lots of things from that. Then Covid came along and I was walking around thinking ‘why have I put all this effort into one show?’ And it’s not until now that I realised why I put all that effort in, but you don’t really know when you’re doing it.

“So Stephen Fox is my new singing partner, my Dollar, doing it my way, revisiting the music and re-examining it and reinventing it in certain ways with a live band. I’m learning so much, it’s fascinating.”

Just before we spoke, she says she had been listening to Pink and Blue, a song that Dollar recorded with Trevor Horn and that she is considering for the live set. “It’s so close to my heart, I think it’s my favourite song that I wrote,” she says. “But there was some angst because I knew Trevor was no longer going to be our producer because ABC were there. I think Martin Fry is amazing but I hated him then so much because I thought ‘You robbed me of my future’, I was beyond help. But I was in the studio, I’d managed to arrange that Gary Langan (later of Art of Noise) be our engineer and it was heavenly, the conversations we had, and Trevor popped in one day and I saw that smile that had become so familiar to me. He beamed and he went ‘It’s really good’ and it was enough, that moment.”

Thereza Bazar
Thereza Bazar

She met Fox through her “dear friend” Alan Connor, who assembled a seven-disc box set reissue of Dollar’s records for Cherry Red. She describes her new singing partner as an “incredible force”. “He’s a Yorkshireman, very down-to-earth, he’s very organised, he says it as it is and what a refreshing change, it’s just amazing to work with someone like this.”

It’s nearly 50 years since a then 17-year-old Bazar successfully auditioned for the pop group Guys ’n’ Dolls. By her own description, she had been “a strange child” growing up in a middle-class household in Cheltenham, who had fallen in love with ballet at the age of two-and-a-half. “My mum took me to watch my sister’s ballet class and I refused to leave...The teacher said I could stand at the back if I didn’t make a fuss, so I stood at the back and copied, I was just hooked.”

Quickly developing an appreciation of classical music, particularly Chopin, she learned piano while also absorbing the Joe Pass, Django Reinhardt and Dave Brubeck records that her father, a semi-professional jazz guitarist, used to play. “That’s what I heard while I also had my music, my parents would buy me my first Chopin noctures and I used to know every melody, I knew what they were called and what key, I was just passionate about music and ballet, and I think that led to a love of everything creative.​​​​​​”

After appearing in pantomime and singing and dancing in a touring show, she decided to answer an advert in The Stage newspaper. “It said, ‘Girls and boys who can sing and dance’, and I thought ‘That’s me’,” she recalls. However, at the audition, she found herself “like a duck out of water” amid all the stage school students. “Three of them were from Italia Conti, the most flamboyant, out-there showbizzy types, and I went in with a black raincoat with my roll-neck jumper on and flat boots. I had no idea.”

To this day, she believes she got the job because “either thought I was putty in their hands because I was so naive or I was the only person smaller than (fellow auditionee) David Van Day”.

Despite a string of middle-of-the-road hits including There’s a Whole Lot of Loving, by 1977 Bazar and Van Day, who were by then in a relationship, had grown restless. “We actually got chucked out because David was so unhappy. No camera shots, no lead vocals, he said ‘I’m wasting my time. There’s Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, where am I? I’m not getting noticed’,” she recalls.

“The plan was I was going to stay in Guys ’n’ Dolls and earn some money and support us. I had been raising my head above the parapet complaining, but only about the musical direction. By then I had fallen in love with pop music, I thought ‘We’re going to get left behind’, we were very fuddy duddy and very MOR – little did I know that MOR would be your salvation because your fans are so loyal and you could sell a lot more records than the pop world, but when you’re young you don’t think like that.

“So I complained a lot, but only for the good of the band, I said ‘We need to think more carefully about our choice of songs, we need to think who’s going to produce us’. But they thought we were too annoying and they threw us out. I was heartbroken.”

Van Day had ambitions to be a solo artist, but it was Bazar who was offered a solo deal by EMI Holland, which she declined. Instead, they signed to Carrere Records as a duo​​​​​​​ and scored two top 20 hits with Shooting Star and Who Were You With in the Moonlight?, both of which were written by David Courtney, who had previously worked with Adam Faith and Leo Sayer.

Their first top ten placing came the following year with ​​​​​​​Love’s Gotta Hold on Me whose tune Bazar had written on a piano in her “tiny flat”. The single broke from their formula of Van Day singing lead vocal ​​​​​​​and Bazar being the “harmony and the fluff and the air around it” when producer Christopher Neil suggested she step in because ​​​​​​​Van Day was struggling with the high key. “We had the musicians and time is money, so Chris said to me, ‘Go and have a go’...and being very compliant, just like the two-and-a-half-year-old doing what I was told, I went ‘OK’...That’s what happens, these unthinkable things.”

Dollar dallied with a rockier sound on their second album, The Paris Collection, but it failed to find favour in an era when post-punk and new wave was all the rage. Instead, Bazar had a brainwave after hearing Buggles’ chart-topper Video Killed The Radio Star and decided to approach ​​​​​​​Trevor Horn to produce them.

She recalls that when they met at a Japanese restaurant ​​​​​​​in Soho in 1980, Horn was uninterested until Bazar mentioned they were off to a Tokyo​​​​​​​ song festival later in the year “and his eyes lit up”. As they were leaving, Horn said he had a songwriting session that night with Buggles partner Bruce Woolley, adding that if anything happened at it that night he would call them.​​​​​​​

“After he went I felt pretty demoralised, thinking we would never hear from him again, but he called the very next day, saying ‘We had a really good session last night and actually wrote a couple of songs. One of them we’ve made a demo and we thought maybe you and David would like to pop up and put some guide vocals on it.’ Actually that was the demo of Hand Held in Black and White, and the opening lyric is ‘On a ticket, Tokyo return’. That was the blueprint of the first Dollar-Trevor Horn association. They wrote Mirror Mirror in the same session.”

Bazar views The Dollar Album that they made with Horn as a creative pinnacle. “I think it was forces colliding,” she says. “I was much more confident by then musically, as songwriter, producer, I understood the moving parts and therefore appreciated the magnificence of (Horn’s) work and I knew it was the beginning of something...I think of it as a relay race and basically we were the beginning. Trevor wrote in his book that he didn’t really want to prouce other artists, but bless her, Jill Sinclair (Horn’s late wife) said, ‘Go on, do it, it will be good for you. They just want another Video Killed The Radio Star’, and she was right. We were the first to give him that shove, to become this most extraordinary record producer, he will be on this echelon with the greats for ever, and to be part of that makes me feel very humbled.”

By 1982, however, Horn was off to work with ABC on their album Lexicon of Love, and Dollar split up. Bazar made a solo album, Big Kiss, that was produced by Arif Mardin, but it failed to ignite and feeling she had “let everybody down”, she retreated to “a safe place” with Van Day. The Dollar reunion yielded one last top ten hit, a cover of Erasure’s O L’Amour, but it was not to last.

“I think I was just so worn down with coming up with the goods all the time because I didn’t have a sparring partner, by then David was a passenger, he was happy to come along and do his vocals but he wasn’t contributing (as a writer) and it’s a big, heavy weight to carry to do everything,” Bazar says. “It was still ‘she thinks she can write, she thinks she can produce, she’s still female, she’s still a bit of fluff’, such a lot of things to contend with. I kind of knew what was my last hurrah, even when I was doing it. But I’m still proud of (O L’Amour), that keyboard riff, I thought I nailed that. As a producer, you’re always searching for that ultimate ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’.”

In 1988, she threw in the towel and headed off to Australia.

Apart from a couple of very short-lived reunions in 2003 and 2008, that might have been it had the enthusiasm of Alan Connor not led Cherry Red to reissue Dollar’s albums​​​​​​​ in 2019. That in turn led Bazar to re-evaluate her old work​​​​​​​. “When I emigrated I put everything to one side, it must have done something psychologically to me for a good number of years, I didn’t listen to a thing on purpose,” she says. “But with the Cherry Red album and ​​​​​​​doing that one little show (in 2019) of course I had to start listening again.

I remember listening to Big Kiss particularly and all the hurt came back but once I got over that ​​​​​​​I was so proud, I remembered moments of recording sessions and writing with Terry Britten and finding What’s Love Got To Do With It and going ‘That’s my song, I’m going to do that’ and the publisher going ‘Yep, that’s yours’ and then the next morning they rang to say ‘I’m so sorry but unbeknownst to me it was sent to Tina Turner’s manager and he loves it so I’m going with that’.

“Those memories, you lock them away but once you open them up it’s a bit like Pandora’s box. Once you get through the heartache, the substance and the value is brilliant, so the box set was a big deal for me, I thought, ‘Gosh, I was busy, I did quite a lot, really​​​​​​​, I don’t really understand how I did it, actually’.”

During the Covid lockdown, Bazar was approached to write a memoir​​​​​​​. While initially reluctant, she says it got her thinking. ​​​​​“I said there’s all this silliness and me setting fire to tablecloths ​​​​​​​and all this rubbish and nonsense, but I suddently thought ‘There’s a lot of ​​​​​​​interesting entertainment there​​​​​​​, I know what the beginning is but what would the ending be​​​​​​​?’ And that got me into thinking about ageism and getting older, and that was a pivotal turn for me​​​​​​​ because when I turned 60 I think I almost developed a stutter​​​​​​​, I was so nervous, I couldn’t work it out.

“I’m 68 now and it doesn’t bother me, in fact, it’s empowering and liberating but that’s because I really got to grips with what ageism means​​​​​​​, and also self-inflicted’s all about the person inside going ‘I can’t do that because I’m a certain age’. So I’ve written a book about th​​​​​​​at, I’m two-and-a-half years into it and it’s almost ready.”

The UK tour is her way of reintroducing herself to her old audience “authentically”. “I’ve never been more energised,” she says. “​​​​​​​I have the same feelings and the same focus as when I was ​​​​​​​in those Dollar days in the early 80s with Trevor Horn, understanding all these moving parts. I can see everything moving around and because I’ve got experience now, I get it​​​​​​​ and I don’t panic, and most importantly I don’t care what people think​​​​​​​. Not everyone’s going to like me and why should they, they’re entitled to their opinion, but if I’m happy and I can make people happy and I can galvanise them into action, it’s not just a pop show and I can jump around and celebrate the music, it has some substance to it, which makes me happy​​​​​​​.

“My mum just turned 97,” she adds, “and I thought ‘what am I going to do for 30 years?’ It’s a long period of time. So the tour might be a glamorous pop party, as I call it, but there’s an underlying seriousness and substance to it, which sums me up, really. People can look at the froth and the glam on top, but there’s a lot more going on​​​​​​​.”

Thereza Bazar’s Dollar play at Leeds City Varieties on September 21.