Get In Touch
info@stevepafford.com,
Publishing Inquiries
info@stevepafford.com
Back

It’s not a family affair: How Pet Shop Boys gave Patsy Kensit her biggest hit with I’m Not Scared

Although released under the Eighth Wonder band banner, I’m Not Scared is effectively a solo single by their singer Patsy Kensit (ooh, Gary Davies: nail, head, and all that), or perhaps, more accurately, a Pet Shop Boys single with a guest vocalist. For this was the very first time Tennant/Lowe gave away one of their songs to another act, and it’s a wondrous piece of neo-poetry. In other words, a nicely noir-like drama of love in a hostile world. 

Moreover, it is – and I’m claiming empirical fact here – one of the best singles of the entire 1980s, which gives the serial rock wife her own special place in pop history. Nowadays, Pet Shop Boys songs tend to clear the dancefloor – I don’t understand why – but I’m Not Scared is still something of a floorfiller, or at least it is in one or two specific south London venues. Mentioning no names Horse Meat Disco, Duckies.

Patsy Kensit is a strange one, isn’t she pop pickers? Now 56, the little wonder was almost famous before she became famous, probably because she was so strikingly precocious and looked and acted like, well, a star. 

Starting out as child model, us Brits knew this petite princess from age four, as the angel faced toothy tot doing the finger pop — famously mimicking the popping of a pea pod on a Birds Eye peas ad. 

Tell me, can you do the Patsy pop?

There followed a slightly inconsistent career in movies — a part in 1974’s The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow paid for her education at a convent school in Twickenham, which gave the girl from a one-parent family on a Hounslow council estate her Sloane Ranger accent. Bit parts in Alfie Darling with Joan Collins (1975), and Hanover Street in 1979, co-starring with Harrison Ford and Christopher Plummer, rounded out the decade.

Betwixt, there was also the role of Mytyl opposite Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda and Ava Gardner in George Cukor’s glitzy fantasy The Blue Bird. Released in 1976, this was the infamously dire Disney-lite Soviet-American co-production where, depending on who you believe, Liz tried desperately to get David Bowie to play a circus harlequin, a Dog and/or a Tree, I kid you not. 

With admirable nous, the Dame declined, probably mindful of an avalanche of reviews bemoaning his wooden acting (and he hardly needed any more branches in that department): “It involved going to Russia and wearing something red, gold and diaphanous,” he later said, dismissively. “Not terribly encouraging, really.”

Kensit and Bowie did eventually get to work together on a very different style of musical a decade later in Julian Temple’s Absolute Beginners, for which Kensit’s fledgling band Eighth Wonder joined Ray Davies, Sade and The Style Council on the soundtrack, submitting the aspirational jazz ballad Having It All. 

“All I want is to be more famous than anything or anyone,” princess Patsy declared at the time. I guess it doesn’t exactly harm your profile if you have a thing for well-known rock blokes too, because she married four of ‘em, with average unions lasting a whopping two or three years. 

For anyone who hasn’t followed the tabloid tales, the story so far goes something like this: in 1986 Kensit wed her first husband, Big Audio Dynamite’s Dan Donovan, when she was 18. Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr became her second husband in 1992. Then she got hitched to Oasis’s Liam Gallagher in 1997, followed by nuptials with Haysi Fantayzee’s Jeremy Healy in 2009, ending in 2010. Ever ready for Big Leggy then.

On the 45 front, Patsy’s sole top tenner was nominally with Eighth Wonder on the brilliant I’m Not Scared. I say nominally, because although the group was founded by her older brother Jamie Kensit, by 1988, members had start to drop off, including bassist Lawrence Lewis and drummer — Jake Walters, Morrissey’s future boxer beau to boot. When first single Stay With Me was released in 1985, the sleeve declared, in pointedly Blondie style, “EIGHTH WONDER are The Girl and Five Boys…”

Yet with the rhythm section increasingly taken care of via contemporaneous drum machines and keyboards, it seems almost inevitable that by time the Pet Shop Boys pinched Patsy to sing on what would become the first song they’d give away to another artist, they had no need for the band.

Did someone say Blondie?

Whereas Eighth Wonder’s often sixties-ish bubblegum pop — produced in the main by Mike Chapman (Toni Basil), Richard James Burgess (Adam Ant) and Pete Hammond (Stock Aitken Waterman) — had a Swing Out Sister meets Blondie lite aesthetic, when it came to I’m Not Scared Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe pulled out all the stops and, based around a wordless three year-old demo, created a masterpiece of moody electronica with a mesmeric refrain that could only sound like of its time, as Neil Tennant recalls in the Further Listening sleeve notes to Introspective in 2001: 

“We originally wrote this for Patsy Kensit in 1987… we used to meet Patsy at parties and she’d ask us to make a record with her. We’d never produced anything for anyone else before, and Phil Harding and Ian Curnow did tons of the work. The original demo, which we’d written in 1985 in Camden Town at the same time as Love Comes Quickly, had been called A Roma. It was only an instrumental. We thought it sounded a bit like Shannon.”

It was perhaps Patsy’s fearless determination to succeed — not to mention her father has been an associate of London mafia murderers the Krays — that influenced Tennant when he came to write the song’s evocative subject matter:

“At the time Patsy Kensit had been in Absolute Beginners and she was in Eighth Wonder and they hadn’t had a hit. She was seen as a little girl and a controlled type and I thought that the way she was perceived could be changed. I thought it would be good if she could be seen as a strong woman. She seemed to me to be a very strong-willed person, slightly ruthless even, and I didn’t think it was good she was just portrayed as a sexy bimbo.”

“Chris and I were obsessed at the time by this record Princess Stephanie of Monaco had made, Irresistible. We liked that kind of French pop music and we liked the idea of making Patsy a European pop star. I think we did a demo with four verses but there wasn’t room for all of them in her version. I wanted the song to sound as though it was translated from French, hence the line ‘What have you got to say of shadows in your past?’ I’ve tried for years to rationalise the line ‘tonight the streets are full of actors’. I suppose it’s just about people posing. ‘Take these dogs away from me’ is actually a quote, or a misquote, from a John Betjeman poem called Senex, which is about it being disgusting to feel sexy when you’re old.”

[It is indeed a homage to “Oh whip the dogs away, my Lord!”, with the forties poem concerning a desperate wish for mental escape.]

“In the song, the idea is that she’s got this horrible gangster boyfriend who’s pushing her around but she’s going to stand up to him because she’s not scared. The dogs are the hooligans and criminal elements around them. So when I sing it I’m doing one of my singing-from-the-point-of-view-of-a-woman songs. I’m singing it as a woman.”

Influenced by the likes of Gallic disco ditties like Voyage Voyage, Neil and Chris’s reckoning that they could make Kensit a “European pop star” was perfectly possible: Eighth Wonder had already had some success in continental Europe (big in Italy, if not Japan), and the French language element made it tailor-made for that market. 

Although the burst of French lyrics were curiously excised from PSB’s later Laibach-esque version (J’ai pas peur, et al), Kensit’s imperious purr en Français of “Débarrasse-moi de ces chiens – avant qu’ils mordent…” was the glaçage sur le gateau. Here, Patsy sounds like a lost link between brand new Kylie and old-old Jane Birkin in her tiny little erotic adventure; singing in that typically coquettish vocal style against a perverse electro atmospherics that are almost Eurovision in its Franco-Italo panache. 

The collaboration was timely for the British charts too, with Neil dubbing it a “Princess Stephanie record” for its leanings towards Monaco’s disco monarch’s airy pop confections. French Europop was about to produce a couple of other big hits in 1988, too, for Desireless and Vanessa Paradis. I’m Not Scared helped pave the way, reaching No. 7 in the UK charts of 10 April 1988 as the Boys’ own Heart was pulsing in pole position.

It became a Top 10 hit in almost every country across Europe too, achieving No. 1 in Italy, No. 2 in Portugal and Switzerland, No. 3 in Spain, No. 4 in Finland, Greece and The Netherlands, No. 5 in Germany, No. 8 in France and No. 10 in Sweden. 

Belgium? Oh, we won’t talk about Belgium.

With their trademark attention to detail, Team PSB apparently had ideas for the single’s sleeve design and the promotional video, which apparently Kensit rejected, feeling there had to be something of Eighth Wonder’s own identity attached to the release and the rest of their forthcoming album, Fearless. Alas, gossip that Kensit fell out with Tennant and Lowe after it charted were untrue, as she told Smash Hits: 

“There have been all these people saying how the Pet Shop Boys hate me now…you begin to think, ‘Oh no I’ve done something really out of order’. Anyway I walked into this bar and who should be sitting there but Neil and Chris and they threw their arms around me and screamed and I was so pleased that everything was still cool with them because they are such brilliant people.”

You don’t get the mix, she’s turned fifty-six…

My tip: if the regular single/album version leaves you wanting, and the 12” Disco Mix goes a bit OTT on the Français, (mixing as it does the English and French/B-side versions for close to eight minutes) help is at hand. Another version, the rarer 10″ Remix, is a dramatic mix of the single version and the Disco Mix. With its fabulous flight of synthetic strings, it runs to an almost perfect five minutes and forty seconds, and is the perfect way to experience I’m Not Scared in all its gripping grandeur and glory. This isn’t it.

Steve Pafford

BONUS BEATS

Disapointingly, I‘m Not Scared has always been somewhat under-represented on the Pet Shop Boys‘ own tours – being played during the Performance and Electric shows only. In addition, the only time the PSB studio version was performed on the tellybox was for Jovanotti’s Italian Entertainment show in 1988, where the unreleased 7-inch edit was used. Nice of George Michael to help out with the rearranging too…

Liked it? Take a second to support Steve Pafford on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
Steve
Steve

We use cookies to give you the best experience. Cookie Policy