Bucks Fizz is a British pop group that achieved success in the 1980s, most notably for winning the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Making Your Mind Up“. The group was formed in January 1981 specifically for the contest and comprised four vocalists: Bobby G, Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Jay Aston. They received attention for the dance routine which accompanied the song, in which the male members of the group ripped the female members’ outer skirts off to reveal much shorter mini-skirts beneath. The group went on to have a successful career around the world (although they were commercially unsuccessful in the United States), but the UK remained their biggest market, where they had three No.1 singles with “Making Your Mind Up” (1981), “The Land of Make Believe” (1981) and “My Camera Never Lies” (1982) and became one of the top-selling groups of the 1980s. They also had UK Top 10 hits with “Now Those Days Are Gone” (1982), “If You Can’t Stand the Heat” (1982), “When We Were Young” (1983) and “New Beginning (Mamba Seyra)” (1986). Bucks Fizz have sold over 15 million records worldwide.
The line-up of the group has changed a number of times over the years, most famously when Jay Aston quit the group in 1985 and was replaced by Shelley Preston. Today, two versions of the group exist: the official version, which includes original member Bobby G, and a version comprising the other three original members under the name The Fizz.
In late 1980, Nichola Martin and Andy Hill sought to create a new group to enter their song “Making Your Mind Up” in the Eurovision Song Contest. Jay Aston and Cheryl Baker had first appeared together on British TV in the 1978 Miss England contest, when Aston had been a contestant as ‘Miss Purley’ and Baker’s then group Co-Co had been the interval act ahead of their appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest 1978. The first member to be recruited was Mike Nolan, who was known to Martin. Together, they recorded a demo of the song and entered it for inclusion in A Song for Europe – the preliminary heats for the contest. Realising that a name was needed for the performing artists, Martin quickly decided on Buck’s Fizz, as it was her favourite drink. In January, Martin contacted Cheryl Baker to join them, as she remembered her from the 1978 Eurovision group, Co-Co. Concurrent to this, Martin was holding auditions for another male vocalist and female vocalist, should Baker turn down the position (which she didn’t). At the end of these auditions, Martin had found a male singer, Stephen Fischer and female, Jay Aston. Unsure of which female vocalist to use, she ultimately decided to use both Baker and Aston as she felt their vocals complemented each other and Martin stepped down from the group in order to team up with Hill for another line-up as they had two songs in the competition. Fischer then became unavailable as he was appearing in a musical at the time and Martin hired another auditionee, Bobby G for the group. The four members came together for the first time on 11 January 1981. Jill Shirley, with whom Martin had been in a group called ‘Rags’ who had appeared in the 1977 ‘A Song for Europe’ contest (placing fourth) agreed to manage the group.
During rehearsals, a dance routine was devised for the song which went on to become famous for the moment where the girls’ skirts are ripped off halfway through – only to reveal shorter skirts underneath. The routine itself was choreographed by Chrissie Wickham, a former member of dance troupe Hot Gossip, although Martin, Baker and Aston have all since laid claim to the skirt-rip idea, Martin had used a similar idea when ‘Rags’ had taken part in the earlier ‘A Song for Europe’ contest in 1977; subsequently performing the same routine on ‘Top of the Pops’ after failing to win the competition.
On 11 March, A Song for Europe took place with the then unknown Bucks Fizz competing against well-known act Liquid Gold, as well as Hill and Martin’s own group, Gem. “Making Your Mind Up” became an easy winner and the group recorded the song with Hill as producer. Later in the month it was released as a single and entered the charts at No.24. By the time the contest was staged, the single had risen to No.2.
On 4 April, Bucks Fizz represented United Kingdom in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Dublin. Although they were favourites to win, the song faced stiff competition and after a vocally unsound rendition, the early votes were poor. Halfway through the voting process, Bucks Fizz took the lead, although they remained close throughout. Ultimately, Bucks Fizz won the contest by a margin of four points, beating Germany into second place. “Making Your Mind Up” became a major hit around the continent, reaching No.1 in the UK as well as eight other countries. It charted highly in other countries such as Australia, eventually selling four million copies worldwide.
With Shirley remaining as the group’s manager, Hill as producer and Martin as co-songwriter, they worked with record company A&R head Bill Kimber to continue the group’s success, determined that they would not become another Eurovision one-hit wonder. A follow-up single was recorded amid promotional tours and the group’s image was revamped. In May, the single “Piece of the Action” was released. The song boasted a contemporary pop sound and high production values, in contrast to the rock’n’roll style of “Making Your Mind Up”. As Baker has stated: “Our follow-up single was nothing at all like ‘Making Your Mind Up’, it was a good, strong, contemporary pop song” “Piece of the Action” became an immediate hit and quickly rose to No.12 in the UK charts. It also charted highly across Europe. Buoyed by this success, the group launched into recording their debut album with producer Andy Hill. Released in July, the self-titled album also became a top 20 hit in the UK charts as did their third single, “One of Those Nights“. In November 1981, they performed for the UK at the World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo, where they achieved the “Best song award” and fifth place overall with their song “Another Night”. The song was released as a single there and went on to be included on their second album.
In late 1981, Andy Hill with former King Crimson member Peter Sinfield came up with the fourth Bucks Fizz single. Titled “The Land of Make Believe“, the song was produced by Hill and featured a strong melody. Released in November, it hit the charts and by Christmas was in the top five. In January 1982, it overtook The Human League‘s “Don’t You Want Me” to reach No.1. It stayed there for two weeks and remained in the UK charts for 16 weeks — becoming the group’s biggest selling single and one of the top selling singles of the decade. It also reached No.1 in the Netherlands and Ireland and became the group’s best-selling single in Germany. The song has since been hailed as an “Eighties classic” and is regarded as the group’s best song by critics.
Early in 1982 the group were awarded ‘best group’ at the Daily Mirror Rock and Pop awards ceremony and received a nomination at the Brit awards. In March they released their fifth single. “My Camera Never Lies” swiftly rose up the charts and became their third number one single. With this they became the first British group of the 1980s to score three number ones within a year. Further success followed in May with the group’s second studio album Are You Ready which went Gold and became their first top ten album. This album received particularly good reviews including a 10 out of 10 rating in Smash Hits. Attempting diversity, an (almost) a cappella ballad was released as the next single. “Now Those Days Are Gone” gave the group another top ten hit, reaching number eight in the UK charts.
Soon after this they were invited to appear before the Queen and Queen Mother in the annual Royal Variety Performance, performing an old show tune, “You’ll Never Walk Alone“. Chart success continued with the release of the hit singles, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat” and “Run for Your Life”. Bucks Fizz’s third studio album Hand Cut was released in March 1983, becoming another top twenty hit and certified silver by the BPI. By this stage, although Bucks Fizz faced harsh criticism in the media for their lightweight pop image, the music press were acknowledging the group’s highly polished performances and sturdy productions, gaining favourable mentions in the NME and Record Mirror. With an eye to harden their sound, the group’s next single “When We Were Young” featured a heavy production and doom-laden lyrics. With a rock-style lead vocal by member Jay Aston, the single became one of the group’s biggest hits, featuring in the top 20 of many European countries, including top ten in the UK and top five in France. Towards the end of 1983 however, it seemed that the group’s success was beginning to dim as singles “London Town” and “Rules of the Game” failed to reach the top twenty — their first singles to miss. Along with these came the group’s Greatest Hits album, which, whilst it reached the top thirty and remained on the charts for three months, fell short of expectations.
Early in 1984, the group decided to take time out of the public eye, fearing over exposure for their recent downward trend and instead concentrated on recording, which they undertook in Switzerland for their fourth album (this included the song “What’s Love Got To Do With It“, soon after made famous by Tina Turner). In May they embarked on a 40-date tour of the UK, selling out many venues. In August they revealed their new look and new harder-edged rock sound with the single “Talking in Your Sleep”. The break proved to be advantageous as this single returned the group to the UK top 20, peaking at number 15. The follow-up single “Golden Days” was released alongside their fourth studio album I Hear Talk. However again, the group saw their fortunes tumble as neither dented the top 40. As Christmas 1984 came around, the group embarked on another UK tour and the release of their next single.
On 11 December 1984, while on tour and returning from a sell-out gig in Newcastle, the group’s tour bus collided with some road works and crashed. While no one was killed, several members of the crew were badly injured including all the members of Bucks Fizz. Bobby G was treated for whiplash, Jay Aston was hospitalised for back injuries and severe head pains, Cheryl Baker broke three vertebrae in her spine, but it was Mike Nolan who suffered the worst injuries. Nolan’s head was badly injured, suffering internal bleeding and he fell into a coma. After an operation, he was reported to have died on the operating table but placed on a life support machine. He remained in a coma for three days, during which time the British press kept Bucks Fizz on the front pages headlines.
Surgeon Anthony Strong at Newcastle General Hospital said that his condition was critical. On 15 December it was reported that Nolan awoke from his coma with the words “I’m all right”. Following this, Nolan was ordered not to work for the next six months. The effects of the crash remain with him today, including epilepsy, short-term memory loss and a 50% loss of vision in both eyes. Following this, Baker and Nolan helped set up the HeadFirst charity for head injuries of crash victims.
On 12 December 2009, the Original Bucks Fizz (Nolan, Baker and Aston) played a concert at Newcastle City Hall to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the accident — the same venue they played the night of the crash. The gig was in aid of HeadFirst. The anniversary of the crash was reported on local BBC News with the members revisiting the crash location.
With Nolan recuperating during early 1985, the group returned to recording and released their next single in June. However, within the group, tensions had mounted to the point that Jay Aston no longer wanted to continue. After early promotion and a concert in Newcastle, she sensationally quit the group, despite still being under contract. Again, Bucks Fizz found themselves the subject of newspaper headlines, where it emerged that Aston had been having an affair with Andy Hill — the husband of the group’s creator Nichola Martin.
Aston sold her story to the press in an article headlined; “The hateful, bitchy world of Bucks Fizz”, while member Cheryl Baker was keen to point out that they were never friends. Aston was sued by management over breach of contract while a replacement member was quickly sought to continue promotion for the current single. Auditions were held at The Prince of Wales Theatre, where 800 girls were seen. Eventually, 21-year-old Shelley Preston was given the job and unveiled to the press and TV among much media attention.
In early 1986, the group’s contract with RCA expired and a new one with Polydor was signed. The first single, “New Beginning (Mamba Seyra)” was released in May and brought the group back to prominence as it became a top 10 hit and one of their most successful singles. After two more less-successful singles and an album, the group took a break during 1987 and regrouped in 1988. After a successful UK tour, the group released their final chart hit, “Heart of Stone” (later a worldwide hit for Cher) and compilation album, The Story So Far. These proved to be the end for Bucks Fizz as a recording group and after a concert tour in 1989, Preston left the group at the end of the year.