Q Blue was the song I heard on Playing the Field, played it to death on Singles and then discovered everything else you had done from that. What I’ve always wondered is how it actually came to be the theme tune for that series? In all the polls here it is always a favourite. Is it a fave of yours?
A Yes… I like it a lot. I wrote it in those heady days when I was able to actually use my season ticket. Southend was a club it seemed to me where we had moments of Stella brightness where upon we were pillaged of our talent by the lofty sods with the money and glamour…. hence the lines ‘weighting tables like we live to feed and not to eat’… a moment there of lyrical word-twisting astuteness. If I may be so bold. I was really happy to meet Kay Mellor… who is a lovely woman…and that she chose my song for playing the field (incidentally, her PA leant across the table and informed me with a sweet might I say patronising smile that ‘weighting’ was actually spelt ‘waiting’.. she had missed the pun entirely and I didn’t have the heart to put her straight…it’s not as if poor spelling and I are not firm bed mates, so I wasn’t going to get snotty…although why she thought waitresses had a place in the lyrics I couldn’t say. Anyhow.. they wanted a lyric that was slightly more relationships related for that show and less football led… so I altered the last verse…they wanted Sunday instead of Saturday too… as it was about a women’s Sunday league.. but I couldn’t go for that. x
Q Who has been the very biggest influence/s on your life, or has had the biggest impact?
A For me it was Elvis Costello.. when I met him I made a pigs ear of it and walked away humiliated and embarrassed with myself. Nothing changed for me..one might think that becoming famous gives you more to say for yourself.. but I was tongue-tied and idiotic. I suspect I will always be this way and will avoid at all costs meeting people that I am in awe of.
Q Have always wondered what does it feel like when someone ‘does you’ on ‘Stars in their Eyes’?
A Tough one this…. I hate it.
I feel compassion always for the performer and I know they honour you in some way…although one suspects it is the big boned contestants that are limited in their choices..Me, Mama Cass and more recently Michelle MacManus.
The thing that bugs me most in that the ones I have seen…and I do try to avoid it.. is that they don’t pay a great deal of attention to detail…wear a big dress and sing That Ole Devil… never mind that I don’t swap microphone hands. Or tap the mic a la Mariah Carey….forever underlying untruths and making them fact. I didn’t see the connection with the bird that won beyond the hairdo of the 80′s.. and even less so since, although I believe it is her day job now…along with a few Eurythmics hits (?).. but there was another if I remember well a year or so later that did a Yazoo song… and I thought she was better. I met a young girl a couple of years back that I bump into at backstage doors sometimes. Very nice girl and she was pretty good at it. But mostly, I don’t like it and avoid watching.
See…now I feel bad at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings…and while this response is not an attractive, diplomatic reply…I am afraid I must admit it to be my truth. x
Q Would you accept being among the jury of this kind of tv show (like Pop Idol, or Fame Academy)?
A I shudder at anything that might make me a ‘celebrity’.
When I was in Yazoo, I once agreed to judge a competition and before hand I was really getting smoozed by a group who told me how much they loved us. On the night, far away from the stage, in my judges row and having forgotten my glasses.. I made my judgement and not recognising the same group…said it like it was…lol…their love for me seemed to wither exceedingly quick…they were snapping little puppies as I made my exit.
It’s a tough one because people only seem to have to say ‘it’s my dream’ for them to deem they deserve it. And some people are shockingly without self knowledge. Simon Cowell is more often right than wrong. I hate to hurt people’s feelings but it is neither a kindness to pretend otherwise. People don’t want to know the truth about themselves … it is something that has become very apparent to me.
I think because people are protected from it…even more so now…you can be anything you want…live your dream (a scary prospect in my case) I think being the kind of girl that I am ..looking the way I have/do and that being such a shocking thing for the press and greater public as I was…that someone quite as unstereotypically desirable as I am, an unenviable physical presence became successful …it was remarked upon time after time and in the harshest tones..at an age where one is not usually exposed to that much criticism. It affected me in that I became inured…I often saw/see their point I am not disturbed in the least by factual description and am in turn puzzled…not that they see me the way they do…but by how they have never turned that mirror on to themselves or their own…or how they can maintain fascination in the dull details of another person. It is liberating recognising the ugliest aspects of yourself. Physically and emotionally.
Q Was just wondering if you had kept in touch with the amazing Ben Earle who supported you on the most recent tour? Every gig that I went to, he seemed to get a lot of interest. And is there anyone in particular that stands out as a memorable support act for you?
A No..I have not heard from or of Ben since. This is no surprise as it is more often the way. Ben is a lovely lad and I wish him well but it is rare that you take up a support acts cause for your own. The only times I remember doing it was with Yazoo.. Boy’s Own were the band of a mate in our local pub. In the nineties, we had Ocean Colour Scene and sometimes Simon acoustic because they were our friends before they took off and having a tough time and we wanted to help… and then in America I was supported once by Jules Shear, the writer of Whispering…a great talent I was delighted to share the stage with. There might have been other times but I can’t bring them to mind right now. x
Q Any thoughts or ideas on who you might like to lend with? Is there anyone you’re thinking about approaching for any upcoming work?
A I am in a mind to do all sorts I would not have previously considered due to my general oddness. I am into singing and would like to sing with people that like me. I have had recent offers but I suspect they are more cynically driven by managers… and that doesn’t interest me. I would not do it to raise my star aloft…only if the creative idea was a good one or my co-singer is interesting or truly wanting it….and of course the song would have to not be cod-soul or the chuffing rubbish that is pop R&B these days LOL. x
Q Given that you and Sir Paul McCartney share a birthday, where do you see yourself 19 years from now? How many more albums? How many more tours? How many more acting gigs? How many more awards? How many more fans? How many grandchildren? What would you like your legacy to be? How would you like to be remembered?
A Good grief.. I don’t like to think like that. Not that I have a problem with ageing.. I like myself better older. Anyone knows that I have this theory that it is good to add years to your age…people will think you look good for it…and when you do reach the age you have been espousing it is no shock at all as you have been it for such a long time. I now say that I am approaching 50…good eh?
I don’t like to see too far into the future because I feel weighed down by plans. I like things to fall upon me like cherry blossom. Before Voice I was ready to call it all a day. Boring boring boring cycle Stress stress. But I’m liking doing stuff again and all sorts but one at a time and in no order. I will like having grandchildren I am sure but having had kids young I hope that mine will own more of themselves for a while before living takes over. x
Q What would you be if this would all suddenly stop?
A If this suddenly stops, I will breathe a sigh of relief. I will sell my house and get something small and I will go to art school.
Q Do you like travelling? What has been the most joyous journey up till now and where would you plan to go in the future?
A I don’t like to travel for its own sake because I don’t know what to do when I get there. I am a useless tourist. I don’t care for big towns and do not know where to find the beautiful corners. I have no plans to go anywhere.
Q I was just listening to some Yazoo stuff the other day for the first time in ages and I wondered what it would sound like now if you were to record it today, given the vast improvement in your ‘voice’ (hard to believe but true) and how much richer even the synth sounds today. I don’t mean one of those rehash remixes most other artists do, I’m talking exactly the same arrangements, but with updated instruments and your incredible voice as it is now. With the 25th anniversary coming up, what are your thoughts on doing a Yazoo revisited album redoing all of the back catalogue, maybe even including the Get Set song?
A I have made no secret of the fact that I didn’t want Yazoo to end when it did. Even though it was reported that it was me that broke away to go solo. I was gutted and still think that Vince and I had a lot to offer one another. All of the rubbish that there was between us is gone. We are older and wiser and far more able to recognise the singular talent that the other has to offer… But time has gone by and Vince and Andy have that enviable kind of relationship that is loyal and steadfast. Making music, writing together I think is a deeply intimate thing to do. You can’t be married for 20 odd years and drop in casually that you’d like to have a pop at your first wife for old times sake. If you get my drift…not without betraying your real love. I would have like it but don’t see how it could be so. x
Q How did you and Vince collaborate in the Yazoo days on tracks such as Don’t Go/Situation and how do you think you and Vince would work today i.e. who would do what? how would you imagine the sound today?
A The early demos Vince gave me were very basic. He did most of his musical writing in the recording process and very quickly I might add. Don’t Go was a Vince song and it was as is – although the vocal melody then was quite linear… *I added more movement into the melody for interest sake. Also the chorus used to go straight up from the end of the verse. Daniel Miller suggested there be a tiny musical interlude before the.. ‘can’t stop now…’ line.
Situation was the same thing. I pulled around the melody and then rewrote the chorus, which as I remember it, originally started with the line.. ‘The man can see the world is spinning round’…actually, I know it did.. I have a very strange memory..it forgets so much and retains the oddest things. Once in the studio Vince sang me a song he had written and then he immediately discarded it. I remember it word for word to this day and I never did sing it….don’t ask me to tell it now…if he didn’t want it then, it was not to be.
I like singing with electronica. I like the spaces. I have a wide voice whose colours can often be covered by conventional instruments…there is more room to be found inside those tight sounds. It was never the sounds I found uncomfortable… it was the lack of flexibility in a live forum. Vince’s intros would be 16 or 32 bars long and were exactly the same as the opening verses. It was a bugger when I lost count and found myself in another section of the song with no way of knowing where to meet up. x
Q My question concerns the very first studio recording you made. I’ve read that Vince brought a demo version of Only You to Daniel Miller to see if he wanted to release it as a one off single. Perchance, do you still have a copy of this demo version, and does it differ much from the released version?
A It was the only demo we made and was not too dissimilar to the resultant recording. . I don’t have it and don’t know who does if anyone. We recorded it on his portastudio. 4 track cassette in his flat in Vange, Basildon… It would have been bounced down to cassette. x
Q Despite the lack of nerves Dawn says you have, you strike me as being a maelstrom of emotions…. so when was the last time you laughed, cried and got angry about your music?
A I have become fond of taking chances but reckon the worst that can happen is that you’ll be shit…and that’s never as bad as standing on the outside and sneering at any other sod whose taking a chance. Always a relief to avoid shame…and I still get that too.
I am always laughing with music. One of the reasons I had to give up the Oboe is that when I heard anything truly beautiful when playing is that it made me break into a smile and broke my contact with the reed.
I often cry when I am singing. If I hit the right kind of note at the same time that I am putting myself into a bad place as I often do to connect with the song then my heart gets broken over again and it takes all I have to compose myself.
Writing Smaller made me cry a lot. I am a child in that song. …and angry…well.. in an act of honesty I have to say that … no I can’t name him cos he’ll pout for England..someone got his ear taken off recently over a tempo issue…LOL…thing is with me.. I know when I am wrong and when I have been wrong and I’m pretty damn good at owning it…but on the rare occasion that I am sure without an inkling of doubt that I am right, then woe betide the poor git that chooses to take me to task. xx
Q Having just turned 45 myself, I was wondering what age you actually feel. I know that I have physically and emotionally changed since I was in my late twenties and I hope I have gained some wisdom along the way but I don’t necessarily feel any older….
A I feel a good age
I feel one hundred and fifty
I am the age of a witch with ten-league boots and
I have shed the clothes of this world.
I am the age of the field
with the heart of a bird
and the eyes of a cat.
Q Having had such a long stint working with Dawn have you planned any other projects together?
A It’s a dangerous thing to spend that much time with a friend. We have learnt a whole new bunch of things about each other and have come away with our deep love intact….we have laughed and tormented each other and have been spikey and have talked hour upon hour. All the things one might expect. We had a great time and are both glad to be back in our own worlds – mistresses of our own domains.
We had a great adventure doing this play along with the toughness that is this kind of commitment. We have no new projects planned although the producers want to take it out on the road again next year and we have been asked by an antipodean producer to take it to Australia and New Zealand. We shall have to see. It is too close to completing our run to spend too much time thinking about yet. We are happy but exhausted xxx
Q What do you think sparks such fierce loyalty in your fans? And in a day where so few celebrities interact with their fans, what inspires you to keep yours so close?
A It is not for me to say I think..what it is that makes it so..but I am certainly glad. I hope that it is the recognition of depth…I suspect it isn’t my arse. But follow me long enough down the path, through the door in the mountain, singing and a dancing and you can stay in my rock forever Oh!! I think I’m just reading too many other worldly books at the moment…all faeries and such..take no heed of my fanciful turns.
I write because I live in fear of being misunderstood. Newspapers are no good for me really because they don’t keep your language and edit the important things away and never ask the salient questions….and why should they waste their pages on idle musings anyway.
I spend too much time in other peoples heads it has been said. I like to get out of my own sometimes…and this is a good place to spill and receive xx
Q Do you only write songs when you have a specific purpose (eg a new album) OR do you write songs when the mood takes you? How do you decide on the subject matter of a song – do you think ‘What am I going to write about..okay..I’m going to write a song about..X, Y or Z’ OR does a particular situation / feeling strike a chord with you and you think ‘this would make a good song”. You have such original turns of phrases in your songs (eg “when love sports its favours like medals” or “we’re all innocence and beer”) – do you keep a notebook of good phrases to be used in future songs or are you just relentlessly imaginative on tap? And lastly, as someone who has been successfully songwriting for years, do you now feel more inclined to write about yourself or about other people’s situations that you’ve observed/imagined?
A I think it is the feeling that strikes a chord. I mostly sit to write when I want to/decide to write but the house is littered with scraps of paper where a line comes to mind and no other..at some inopportune time like when I am driving or cleaning my teeth or watching telly. Sometimes I let fly a stream of gibberish into a tape recorder and listen back to what words seem to be hidden within. Sometimes a lyric flows like it had already been written. The words are just there in your head. sometimes I will tweak an idea for months or finish a song 6 years after I started it. Sometimes a sentence just needs to be re-ordered to fit so that the meaning is the same but the music is more appropriate or attractive and this will make the language sound more archaic …like it does in nursery stories or folk tales….and I read copious amounts of them as a child…I am very familiar with that type of language. As you can see.. I do not know how to punctuate and have no English qualification..not even the most basic one but my mother is an English language pedant and corrected my conversations mercilessly all through my childhood..and still.
I never learnt to write at school but I learnt to speak at home.
The first lyric you quote is absolutely mine… I write all my own words although I must confess the second…that about innocence and beer, is Pete’s. It is the only song of ours that we collaborated on together lyrically..but I will not claim what is not mine to own.
I write about me and mine and about things and people I observe. I very much enjoyed writing for Smaller. Having a character to dissect.. Imagining yourself in someone else’s skin in a given scenario is a very refreshing approach. To sing from some one else’s perspective widens all possibilities. That must be how it was for Brel and his ilk of story tellers. I shall try some more of that. xxx
Q Which was the last film you saw in the cinema and what did you think of it?
A Well…funnily enough.. David and I went to see Mission Impossible last night…and did the decent thing…took the kids who went to see X men next door, and we got to be on our own. Only trouble was that, after sitting through more than half an hour of adverts, they started showing the wrong film. Someone went to get an usher and then after 15 mins of bad music they started the right film, but without sound other than more bad music. After another 15 mins we left but it was too late to see a different film cos we had to meet the kids…so it was a rubbish cinematic night. The last week of our run in London, Dawn and I went to see The Da Vinci Code in Leicester Sq….she told me off for crunching ice… and kept on poking me when I jumped…but I hadn’t read the book so I was happily involved..though a little confused. xx
Q Smaller was a deserved stage triumph and I couldn’t be more delighted about that for everyone concerned…but I was wondering how you found it to write for a character. Did you find it liberating to have your songwriting stretched in that way, or was it restrictive to have a brief? I hope you are proud of Smaller as a whole, but particularly those three songs. They are divine
A I found it really liberating to be able to wear a different hat and live by a different set of rules. To create a personality in your head, put her in a situation and a place that is different to your own and then give her a narrative. It was truly interesting. I have never really written from that perspective before. I think in singing the Voice project.. I had a go, like I said then, of being me- singing a romantic language that was alien to me.. and that was a challenge then, strange as it may seem…this was like going a step beyond and being the voice to a different body.. now that is truly liberating and the choices endless(…and in my darkest night, my goals are out of sight, and nothing warms the night…I close my eyes, and with such sweet surprise.. I can be anyone.) x
Q How do you go about putting together the team to work on your new albums? Do producers approach you or is it a recommendation thing? You must have a rather talented little black book of musicians you’ve worked with by now….
A Well its a funny one.. getting ready for an album. I don’t think I’ve done enough of them to have a game plan.
It depends on the type of song you end up writing I suppose. You can have a great musician who is brilliant for one thing and not right for another… a bit like casting a play I suppose…no matter how well anyone thinks I’ve done, I don’t suppose they’ll ever be seeing me for Juliet
The problem I have is that my tastes are so diverse and without being lairy, I think I’m quite equipped in a few different arenas. It’s hard to find someone that sets his hand to as many styles as I do…well..maybe there’s plenty out there..they just never seem to come my way… and I don’t like the idea of an album made by lots of different people. Its a dilemma I face time and again. Usually, you approach producers…although, It must be brilliant to be the muse of some great Machiavellian producer who wants to create art around you. That sort of thing only happens to pale faced girls with shallow breathing and diaphanous dresses though..doesn’t it? x
Q Anyway my question, you may have read on the boards our comments on madonna’s tour and price of the tickets. I was wondering what your thoughts were about the prices of concert tickets at the moment?
do you think it’s value for money? do you think that artist like Madonna and George Michael are justified in setting prices this high for shows? would you pay upwards of £200 + for tickets or would you wait for the DVD?
A LOL it is a tough one. No.. I would find it hard to justify that kind of tickets price.
What I would say is that putting on a show is extremely expensive. I set ticket prices as low as possible with the proviso that we break even.. although I admit it is irksome that your agent who is at home with his kids gets paid much more than you who is busting a gut and living in a glorified van…but that’s the business.
Very often bands have had to subsidise the tour by paying the shortfall. I have done it many times…even on sell out tours.
I would not pay £200… if truth be told I probably wouldn’t get the DVD either LOL. It is nice to make some dosh but I would imagine that with the size of those venues sold out, they would get some serious ticket revenue and merchandise revenue anyway. But the productions are pretty fancy and that certainly costs. Lets put it back to you….do you want to see screens and dancers and pyrotechnics and huge stage sets spectaculars. I know from seeing some of these types of show televised, they are all about showmanship and the music seems to take second billing…. I don’t know about the George Michael show…but when I saw Kylie on telly, that’s what struck me and i don’t know how much her tickets were ….Naa… I wouldn’t do it…it prices out real fans for johnny come lately’s who just want to say they were there and shout for the hits all sodding night
Q Life In A Hole always has been one of those interesting B-sides to me, getting more play than Ode To Boy II at the time. To me, the song is about trying to shut out the world or something, escapism, but I could be totally off the mark. So what is the thought behind it? And what was first, music or lyrics? They enforce this claustrophobic feeling together…
A I’m glad you like this one….I do too! Its a song that warns against avoidance.
I am talking to myself during my closed off years. Playing to patterns. The safety net that becomes the very rope that hangs you. The walls that shut them out, shut you in. And Talking to others about how they tie themselves to possessing things. The act of ownership…the desire to acquire becomes so great for its own sake that we forget it is not these things that keep us alive…that sustain us…and we will not perish for the loss of them but find ourselves in the space that losing them acquires.
The speed of the lyric defines the melody x
Q How does touring with a play compare to a gig tour? Come to that, how does touring with a play compare to being in the same place with a play? Was the response to Smaller at all those venues the same?
A Touring the play in so many ways is preferable to music touring, although I do miss the variety of singing different things and being master of my own destiny. Because with the play you are in one town for a week and get to see more of the places you visit and are with a gang of people you can hang with and having more time that is not used up in travel. Also…being with Dawn who is so recognisable means that she gets more attention and I can slip away easily. That was nice.. It reminds me how oppressive being that famous is and how I would not swap places with her for anything. Although she is very gracious and handles it much better than I did when everyone knew my face. I missed home but am quite adaptable. I like the tour better than being in London. Because it is not my regular job, I don’t understand the kudos that is associated with having a play in London….never saw London as being a fab place nor understood why the people there are deemed to be more discernable…having said that. I have really enjoyed London as a venue for my music tours because I seem to have a brilliant ‘fan’ base that always makes it special and even more so in recent years. There seems to be a tiresome snobbery that is associated with London theatre and I think they need to get over themselves. They celebrate cultural places like The Globe and yet forget about the historical tales of the great unwashed masses that gathered there in all their plebian glory…and yes… I am a pleb. On tour, the audiences are more vocal and it is a bigger thing for them that you are there only for a week as opposed to London where there are a thousand and one shows on and you feel you are a part of the tourist trail. It was good getting home after every show in London…but more of an adventure when you are setting up in a new place. Touring is always ok with me these days because there is always a light at the end…the end is always near. xxx
Q I wonder how Alison reacts when she’s in a public place and one of her records starts to play and how the people and public around her react…would she be sublimely un-noticed?
A It must be said that I have changed physically in many ways. And often. I am not always recognisable. It goes in waves. Some days I am noticed constantly and somedays not…maybe I am recognised but that person chooses not to react. It is all cool with me. If I hear myself I keep my head down and will it to stop although secretly I am sure I am pleased. I know I look different because a year or so ago…backstage at one of Dawn’s shows, a very famous musician who had invited me to sing …and I did…with him on a very high profile show some time back…someone who I had had countless conversations with, was visiting her. I was pleased to see him and went up and kissed him and he had absolutely no idea who I was. If I’d have told him my name he would have been mortified…besides, it sounds so wanky. so I let him pass probably thinking I was a mad fan. I like being anonymous. I feel less like a freak that way. x
Q Just wondering if you’ve considered doing any film work (aside from live/performance pieces). With the success of Chicago and Smaller, it seems like a natural progression (if you’re so inclined)
A Yes… I think I should like that very much…although I do not know what the likelihood is…seeing as I am at an age where women find the roles fewer and far between and there are a hundred and one great actresses out there with finer credentials looking for gigs … I would love to be one of those big rough old barge ladies on the His Dark Materials film they are making though…I reckon I have the face for that ! xxx
Q I noticed that you played venues and theatres that were somewhat off the usual track…….and I wanted to ask you, did you get a chance to explore any of the locations….and if so, any stories you’d like to share?
A Hmmm Stories.
After years of not being able to go out when touring for fear of losing my voice.. the crew got me very drunk in Canterbury one night. It was so bad I bought a Kebab! I found myself singing under Dawn’s hotel window at 3 am. Not a good look.
June is a dark horse and out partied me and Dawn many fold! That must be said…old lady? I think not!!
Met lots of Dawn’s famous friends. Although I will not name drop as that will shame me.
I lost my Karaoke cherry in The Press Club in Manchester!…after Jason, our Windy Miller stage revolver, more commonly a great Stage manager / company manager, but in this instance downgraded with us for the crack….signed me up to sing Only You. This was after Anthony Cotton did a cracking rendition of Copacabana…and before our Kath regaled us all with Common People..with great style it must be said.
Suppers at midnight and general happy times xxx
Q I know that you have recorded most of your albums here in the UK and that you went to the States for Raindancing or was that the writing, I can’t remember your reasons off the top of my head but there were some I believe. Is there any place (here or abroad) that you may think may give you that Inspiration be it the environment or that something extra that would add to the recording experience and the outcome of the finished work?
A I recorded Raindancing in A&M studios in La Brea Hollywood. Big mistake. I did it because the manager I had at the time was enamoured with all things American and although I had some great adventures there…some great adventures…It was the wrong thing to do. I got homesick and didn’t know the musicians and had no relationship with the producer and it all went tits up. The best place for me is within a 20 mile radius of home LOL. Recording Voice was really brilliant for that reason. North London is good! xxx
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