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Tequila: Why Terrorvision’s Slammer Of A Song Still Makes Us Happy
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Tequila: Why Terrorvision’s Slammer Of A Song Still Makes Us Happy

A party anthem inspired by a tequila binge, Terrorvision’s breakout hit is a tale of hedonism and broken bones – as the band reveal to Dig!

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Throughout the 90s, Terrorvision rode the wave of the decade’s alt-rock explosion with their frothy blend of hard rock and gleeful, glam-inspired energy. Hailing from Bradford, the group were never shy of dabbling with tongue-in-cheek doo-wop vocals and ironic lyrics, and trailed Spinal Tap-esque rock’n’roll antics in their wake. In early 1999, Terrorvision’s biggest hit, Tequila, saw them take a happy ode to slamming shots to the giddy heights of the pop charts, all thanks to a memorable dance remix by DJs Mint Royale.

How did it come about? Brace yourself for a wild tale of hedonism, broken bones and copious amounts of the devil’s water – as told by the band to Dig!

“It is a general biopic of many tequila nights. They always ended up messy”

It was during a European tour of Spain, while Terrorvision were promoting their third album, Regular Urban Survivors, that the idea for the song originated. Having been invited out to a boozy dinner at the Hard Rock Café in Madrid, the band found themselves being plied with tequila courtesy of zealous Spanish fans with whom Terrorvision had become hugely popular. Speaking of Tequila’s inspiration, singer Tony Wright says, “It is a general biopic of many tequila nights. They always ended up messy.”

With this particularly messy night being Wright’s birthday, the tequila was flowing and the singer fell victim to “the curse of Cuervo”. As Terrorvision headed back to their tour bus, Wright drunkenly decided it would be a fun idea to climb up a 15-foot wall in an attempt to steal the letter “H” from the Hard Rock Café sign. Why? “We were all very ’ard from Bradford,” former Terrorvision drummer Ian “Shutty” Shuttleworth jokes.

“He jumped down and broke both his ankles”

“The next thing I knew is everyone shouting for him to climb down, as we needed to go,” Terrorvision bassist Leigh Marklew tells Dig! “We had a long overnight drive ahead of us into France and then Italy.” Feeling invincible under the influence of tequila, Tony decided to do battle with gravity – but soon wished he hadn’t.

“He jumped down and broke both his ankles,” Shutty says. “We had to head home following a visit to the hospital.” With their tour cut short, the group “had to drive home like naughty schoolboys”, Marklew admits.

It was while recuperating back in the UK that Tony reportedly wrote most of the lyrics to Tequila. Meeting in their Bradford rehearsal room, the band built the song around Marklew’s shuffling bass line, and together they collectively jammed a hip-swaying tribute to the rush of endorphins the drink produces. “We liked tequila,” Wright says, “and so it was inevitable we would write a song about it.”

“The red wine came out and things descended into anarchy”

As Terrorvision set out to record Tequila as part of the sessions for their 1998 album, Shaving Peaches, they met at a studio in West Heath Yard, Hampstead, to work with producer Edwyn Collins. The indie icon and former Orange Juice frontman had scored a solo hit of his own with 1995’s A Girl Like You, so it didn’t take long for the Scottish musician’s oddball pop sensibilities to rub off on the band. “His approach, attitude and his collection of vintage recording stuff really added to the overall sound in the end,” Wright says.

Though quite different from the Mint Royale remix that would later transform Tequila into a Top 5 hit, the album version of the song is a sunny, vividly produced slice of joyous pop-rock. Thanks to his industry connections, Collins invited his friend Dick Cuthell – a legendary member of 2 Tone ska legends The Specials – to add some brassy flourishes to the song, and even persuaded his wife, Grace, to whisper some seductive vocals that were later buried into the mix. “It did sound very good,” Shutty says. “I was very impressed with [percussionist] Jeff Scantlebury doing all the clever sounds with the bongos.”

Overall, the album version of Tequila was a summer-tinged blast of tropic-flavoured euphoria over which Tony sang of how the Mexican tipple “makes me happy”. From the exotic sound of crickets at dusk to occasional flashes of Spanish guitar, it’s a vibrant track only made more infectious by the giggly schoolchildren singing backing vocals. “We were determined to get a load of kids in to sing the chorus for Tequila,” Leigh says, “and it just so happened that Edwyn and Grace’s son, William, dragged a gang of girls in from his school.” When the song became a hit, the band even went on to invite the kids to join them on stage for live performances on TFI Friday and CD:UK.

“It was a total riot,” Leigh remembers of the album sessions. “After a few hours of decent, sober work each day, the red wine came out and things descended into anarchy.” With the likes of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and Aztec Camera songwriter Roddy Frame popping in for a visit, it’s hardly surprising the song had such a party atmosphere. Tequila might not have seemed an obvious choice for a single, but that would soon all change once Mint Royale DJs Neil Claxton and Chris Baker put their own spin on it.

“It was the first remix of ours that sounded like a great song.”

Slap-bang in the middle of the big-beat era spearheaded by Fatboy Slim, Manchester duo Mint Royale were tasked with remixing Terrorvision’s song as an arms-aloft club banger. Initially issued on white label, the DJs’ work was so impressive that it would soon bring the band’s celebration of barroom hedonism into nightclubs the world over under the guise of Tequila (Mint Royale Shot). “It was the first remix of ours we had heard that sounded like a great song,” Marklew says. “They just turned the pop factor up to 11.”

After the song was championed by BBC Radio 1 DJ Zoe Ball on her breakfast show, the single was released, on 18 January 1999, and went on to peak at No.2 in the UK, beaten by a whisker by The Offspring’s Pretty Fly (For A White Guy). Though Terrorvision had been on Top Of The Pops before, they performed the song alongside Mint Royale for the Beeb’s flagship music show, with Tony shaking maracas alongside makeshift desert props. “Somebody had moved my keyboard, so all you can see of me is I’m stuck behind a plastic cactus,” former Terrorvision keyboardist Josephine Ellul recalls. “I had a camera guy basically on my arse the entire time, and it was really off-putting!”

Inevitably, Terrorvision’s newfound association with tequila had its perks, particularly when the band headed back out on the road. “Jose Cuervo sent them these awesome tequila bottles in beautiful wooden caskets,” Ellul says – though the booze got stolen from the band’s dressing room, along with bags of her clothes. “I basically had to go on stage with gaffer tape instead of a bra, and barefoot because they got my stage shoes.” The next day, the group found all the empty tequila bottles and everything else in a nearby woods, with Ellul’s underwear “draped on all the trees and everything”.

“Everybody wanted to drink tequila with us”

With Tequila becoming Terrorvision’s biggest hit, the late 90s sped by like a never-ending party for the band. “The whole promotional whirl around the single was so massively drenched in alcohol,” Marklew says. “Everybody who met us wanted to drink Tequila with us, no matter if it was 10am or 10pm.” Tony Wright even remembers how the band’s influence started to seep into the late-night club culture: “It triggered a whole industry, with everything from bar signs to T-shirts that say ‘Tequila, it makes me happy’.”

Despite the song becoming such a big success, Terrorvision were reaching the end of their time as a studio band, with only two more albums, 2001’s Good To Go and 2011’s Super Delux, following amid a slew of live recordings. Between 2001 and 2005, the group went on hiatus. “It was the beginning of the end for that period of the band,” Marklew reflects. “It was the last hurrah.”

Luckily for the band, the song attracted a live following which continues to support them to this day. “We played the festival circuit that year as an unsigned act and absolutely smashed it,” Marklew says. “Tequila went down a storm with everyone in the crowd.”

The bassist remains understandably proud of Tequila’s success. “It’s a fun song from a fun time,” he concludes. “We’ll take the attention it got us.” Doubtless it will continue to fund Terrorvision’s rounds for years to come.

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