IT WAS a classic one-hit wonder. Anyone who was around in 1981 will remember the Department S single, Is Vic There?
The single reached No 22 in the charts and eventually sold more than 200,000 copies, meaning that now the band has been revived, it’s a must-play part of their set.
However, original Department S keyboard player and now frontman Eddie Roxy insists it’s not a pop millstone around their necks.
“We have a classic song that everyone remembers,” he says. “That’s not a hindrance, it’s bonus because people take a bit more notice.
“It started life on a small indie label, Demon Records, and was then released on Stiff so it sold in large quantities but over a long period of time. It still made the Top 30 and got us on Top of the Pops.
“It’s a door opener, it’s our key. Most people know it, especially people of that generation. It’s better to be well known for one song than none!
“Anyway, our second single, Going Left Right, sold 80,000 – today that would make it No 1!”
All the band’s early success came in 1981. They disbanded the following year and original singer Vaughan Toulouse died in 1991. Department S reformed in 2006 when Eddie bumped into original guitarist Mike Herbage and they decided to “have a bit of fun”.
“There was a, er … resting period,” says Eddie. “Essentially what happened was the band disintegrated. We were signed to Stiff Records and it went bust so the debut album we’d recorded wasn’t released.”
When the band reformed Eddie offered to replace Vaughan up front, mainly “because I was a rubbish keyboard player!”
The reformed band recorded a cover of the Alvin Stardust song, My Coo-Ca-Choo, as their first single and decided to start playing live dates.
“We all liked the song and we just thought ‘Let’s have a bit of fun’,” recalls Eddie, who now splits his time between Godalming and Battersea.
“Mark Bedford from Madness played bass on it. Then we recorded Wonderful Day with [former Sex Pistol] Glen Matlock on bass and Marco Pirroni from Adam and the Ants on guitar, and the next single, God Squad Saviour, had John Keeble of Spandau Ballet on drums. They were all just people we knew.
“When we got back together properly we said if we’re going to do it properly we need to write new material.”
“Nowadays the set consists of the three old singles and the rest is new. Occasionally will throw in one of the other old songs but it’s more about being a new rock and roll band.”
Department S are throwing their full weight behind the fund-raising drive to create the Fiery Bird, a new live music venue in Woking based in the former Quake nightclub. They will play at the venue tomorrow night (Friday 21 April), joining Eddie and the Hot Rods, Eddie Tenpole-Tudor and Surrey band Phoenix Chroi.
Eddie explains: “I’ve known Elaine McGinty, the singer with Phoenix Chroi, for a while and I saw the project on her Facebook page.
“I thought we should try and support this because it’s in everyone’s interest. A 900-capacity venue is exactly what bands like us need and Woking needs.
“I grew up near Reading and we always suffered from being a satellite town of London. Bands never came to our town.
“It’s a really good thing to have a decent venue and there’s a huge audience in Surrey. It’s up to people like us to try and help because we can.”