The Godfathers of Pop: Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot
Douglas McPherson chats to Curiosity Killed The Cat’s Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot
Not many people can say George Harrison sung them to sleep as a baby, but that was the childhood of Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot. Born at the centre of the Swinging Sixties, his father was celebrity photographer Jean Claude Volpeliere-Pierrot, his mother the model Belinda Watson, and family friends included The Beatles and Eric Clapton. By his 21st year, Ben was ready for fame in his own right as the vocalist of Curiosity Killed The Cat. Beginning in 1986, the quartet enjoyed a string of jazz and soul inflected hits including Down To Earth, Ordinary Day, Misfit, Name And Number and, as a trio under the shortened name Curiosity, Hang In There Baby, that stretched into the early 90s.
Growing up around people like The Beatles, did you always want to be famous, or to make music?
I never had any ambitions to be famous. I was more taken by music. If music was playing in a club, I’d dance. I was a little bit shy, but music used to make me confident. I’d just meditate in it. It was the same when I was in the band, really. Even though I’d had a bit of experience singing onstage in musicals at school, I didn’t like having too much attention on me, unless there was music playing.
How did you meet the other band members?
The three of them [Julian Brookhouse, guitar; Nick Thorp, bass; and Migi Drummond, drums] formed a band prior to me joining. I think they were called Twilight Children, or something like that – they were a little bit Gothic! I went to see them play at the Embassy Club, which I frequented as a kid, and got to know them. Then I came to meet them again after they’d dropped their singer. I had a lunch date with the drummer’s sister and heard them playing in the sitting room. They invited me down to a rehearsal room and we never looked back.
Who came up with the name?
We had millions of ideas for a name, but could never decide on one. But the first song that we properly recorded was called Curiosity Killed The Cat. That was what was written on the cassette. Our manager used it as a band name one day and it seemed to work, so we went with that.
How did you come to adopt your trademark hat?
Before the band, I preferred to wear a hat when I went to clubs because when you get hot and sweaty, your hair goes into a mess. I wore a hat to look neat. When we signed our record deal, we took a holiday in Greece and we all bought Greek fisherman’s hats. I kept wearing mine, basically because our manager didn’t like me wearing a hat backwards and that spurred me on to keep wearing it. I had a policy that I never wanted to copy anyone or look like anyone else, so when I found the Greek fisherman’s hat it was perfect.
How did Andy Warhol come to direct and appear in your first video, for Misfit?
We heard that he had an exhibition coming up in London – his first for 20 years – and we were all keen to go, so we asked our press department to get us on the guest list. He invited us to a big banquet later that evening and said he’d like to hear something of our band. Our manager ran over with a cassette the next morning and he said he’d like to do a video. It was very fortunate, because our record company had said they weren’t going to make a video for our first single, and it was only because Andy Warhol wanted to do it that they agreed to pay for it.
What was it like filming with him in New York?
He was very humble, because as you can see from the video, it was a low-budget production. We had no audio person, so we just played the track on a cassette player, which he was holding. As we walked around the streets, we kept bumping into his friends, and had a real laugh. He was very cheeky off camera. He just liked having a laugh.
Are you still working with the other members of the band?
I’m not in touch with them anymore. I use session players for the 80s gigs, but I’m planning on doing something new and fresh apart from that, soon. I’m not certain what name I’ll use. The obvious thing would be to associate myself with the past, but to be honest, I’m not looking to give myself the best chance of commercial success. I just want to entertain people and entertain myself, and as long as enough money is made to do the next gig, I’ll be happy.