Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Interview: Marc Almond

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

“My life’s been a continual swan song”. Marc Almond looks back on 27 years between the gutter and the stars with James McGalliard in London.

“I don’t want to be the party person anymore, I don’t want to be in the night club unless I am working there”. I’ve met Marc in the basement of a swish hotel only a stone’s throw from his beloved Soho, to talk about his new album Stardom Road. But a week after celebrating his 50th birthday with a career spanning live show covering his twenty-seven years in the spotlight, Marc’s worldview has altered.

“I wrote the song Redeem Me (Beauty Will Redeem The World) about… growing up and moving on, and wanting different things out your life…I wanted some light in my life, after a period of an accident. I just felt I had been surrounded by this ugly period of my life, a very dark period of my life. So I wanted to open the windows and let the light in. If that means looking on things in a more spiritual way, I didn’t look at it that way I am not a religious person at all. I think it does inevitably gives you a different view of life, a more spiritual appreciation of life - if anything it’s just wanting a calmer life.”

So what’s bought about this change for Marc Almond? On 17 October 2004, while riding pillion on a motorbike near St Paul’s Cathedral, he was involved in an accident and suffered terrible injuries to his head and upper body. He was in a coma for two weeks, and it was during his long recovery that he found he had forgotten how to sing, and had to go back and have lessons. “I went back to get the confidence back in my singing, to learn how to get my strength back and everything. It made me realise how lazy I was getting in singing and it made me… much more conscious, thinking of the notes I am singing, so it has been a good thing for me in that way.”

“I found that going back to singing lessons now, my hearing I went deaf in one ear after the accident because it was punctured, and my lungs were punctured and I couldn’t breathe properly and I couldn’t hear for like six months. That’s healed now but I have a slight imbalance in my ear which means I sometimes fall over on stage.” He continues, laughing “I have to hang onto the piano because I felt myself going over. I get vertigo, and everything goes round -I have fallen over on the tube before.”

The only clearly visible sign of his accident is a visible dent above his right ear, as though a thumb had been pressed too hard into soft clay. Yet Marc’s looking a remarkably sprightly 50, especially considering what he’s been through. “It used to be 50 was the end of your life, now it’s like a new beginning. Like 50 is the new 30 I like to think… I’m 30 in my mind; I don’t feel 50”.

Stardom Road is Marc’s first solo album since the accident, and while it only contains one new composition, it’s more than a mere album of covers. Taking songs from Charles Aznavour, Al Stewart and David Bowie, Almond has given them his unique touch, and the tracks are ordered like an autobiographical musical. But how would he fare on the mainstay of covers today? “I think that I would fail miserably on X Factor; I wouldn’t get past the auditions. I’m so glad, so lucky that I’m not an up-and-coming young artist trying to make it in the music business these days, having to go through that sort of trial by TV, or that kind of ordeal. ‘You’re not singing in tune; you’re not looking right’…”

“To me singing is about making people believe what you are singing and bringing your distinctive quality to the song that makes it instantly recognisable as you. You’re delivering the song and making people believe it, that’s what Frank Sinatra said”

As half of Soft Cell, Marc was a pop star in what was probably the last true age of pure pop, and a beacon for those who were a little bit different. I felt privileged to hear him describe how the sound of that era came about. “They had grown up though in an age of the ‘70’s where you went through four different musical genres - it started the decade with progressive rock coming out of the 60’s, it went to glam rock, you went through punk, and you went through disco. And when you took a mixture of glam rock, punk and disco, and put it all together… with a verse, a bridge, a hook and a chorus, you got what an ‘80’s pop song was… You took these influences - this colour and this fashion and this glitz and this glamour from the glam rock of Bowie and Bolan, from the punk of the Sex Pistols, and the disco of the Donna Summer and Sylvester, you put them all together and that’s what you got - this incredible melting pot of music which was 80’s pop!”

There’s sheer joy in his voice as he continues breathlessly, “And you sold millions of records because everyone watched one TV show (Top Of The Pops) and you brought your records from a record shop and everyone bought the same records. Plus it was the first beginning of pop celebrity culture as well…I remember doing an interview for German magazine Bravo around that time… They would turn up while you were on holiday and knock on your hotel bedroom door and walk in and go ‘All the fans from Bravo Magazine want to see what you are wearing and what do you have in your suitcase?’ ”

His next album may be his final one of original songs, which will “reflect this period of my life that I am going through, this reflective period is reaching 50. This coming out of an accident where I go to counselling to reconnect to my teenage years quite a lot, trying to remember who I am. I try and remember where I have come from, so I find I am retracing my steps, so I am listening to music from the ‘70’s… The world that inspired me to write songs initially that I did my growing up with that made me initially the person I am is now moving away and you have to accept that is going that is sliding away.”

But he’s not giving up recording, and his deal with Sanctuary will give him the security of a further two releases. Or hope: “I like the beauty of cities and places now. I want the more overground things as opposed to the underground; the light things as opposed to the dark things, that I really searched out before for experience. Not that I lost myself on that, but I wanted to find out how much of me was still a part of that. Parts of me I have found still are parts of that, but I feel I have grown and moved on. I can’t always be grovelling around in the gutter I have to be up in the stars there somewhere, sometimes”

© James McGalliard 2007

I interviewed Marc on Monday 16 July 2007.
A version of this interview appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 1 August 2007