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MUSIC | INTERVIEW

...TO MARC ALMOND

Tainted Love; Bedsitter; Say Hello, Wave Goodbye; Where Did Our Love Go? – the hits just kept coming for synthpop duo Soft Cell, vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist David Ball, in the early 1980s and then again in the noughties after the band reformed. Melissa Blease talks to Marc Almond, who is appearing at The Forum on 8 May

The gig will be a joyous evening of all sorts of things, including songs celebrating my musical heroes – Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Scott Walker, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan

W

ith a career that spans over four decades under his belt, English singer, songwriter and musician Marc Almond is arguably one of British popular culture’s most creatively diverse, prolific mavericks: a vanguard visionary with an audacious appetite for artistic expansion. Born in Southport, Lancashire in 1957, Almond and David Ball – the other half of synthpop duo Soft Cell, established in 1977 when the pair met at Leeds Polytechnic – provided the soundtrack to many a hedonistic, misspent youth. Their 1981 version of Gloria Jones’ cult Northern Soul classic Tainted Love remains the ultimate, evocative dancefloor hit, while their platinum-selling debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret offers a compelling aural insight into the lives of UK Generation X. By the time Soft Cell disbanded in 1984, Almond had already started diversifying, having formed Marc and the Mambas – a loose, experimental collective – two years previously. He recorded his first solo album Vermin in Ermine in 1984, Stories of Johnny in 1985, Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters in 1987 and The Stars We Are in 1988, which included Almond’s version of Gene Pitney’s Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart, which he later re-recorded as a duet with Pitney himself. He’s recorded an album of dark French chanson cover versions alongside poems by Rimbaud and Baudelaire set to music (Absinthe, 1993) and an album of Jacques Brel songs (Jacques, 1989.) He’s collaborated with a diverse list of artistes including Nick Cave, Siouxsie, Jools Holland, Matt Johnson, Bronski Beat and PJ Proby. He’s switched musical styles, record labels and managers multiple times, kicked a decadelong catalogue of addictions to the kerb with rehab therapy... and written about all of it in his engagingly frank 1999 autobiography Tainted Life (a second autobiography In Search of The Pleasure Palace followed in 2004, itself followed by three books of verse). In October 2004, he suffered a near-fatal motorbike accident which resulted in serious head injuries, multiple breaks and fractures, a collapsed lung, damaged hearing and posttraumatic stress disorder. He later became a patron of brain trauma charity Headway, and in 2018 he was awarded an OBE for

Services to Art and Culture... and all of this is merely an edited version of a fascinating career that holds multi-generational, enduring appeal. So, to bring us bang up-todate with Almond’s adventures... This month, Almond will bring his solo show to The Forum, Bath – but in terms of inspiration for the set list, he’ll have more than a few friends accompanying him. “The gig will be a joyous evening of all sorts of things, including songs celebrating my musical heroes – Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Scott Walker, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan,” he says. “Brel and Aznavour are two remarkable songwriters, and true storytellers; they both continue to inspire and influence me. Sadly, I never met Scott Walker, which seems odd now [Walker died in March of this year]. He gave me so much inspiration; I even modelled myself on him during the Soft Cell years – that hair cut, and those dark glasses. His legacy is his remarkable voice, that stands out as one of the greatest. Of my many collaborations, though, my most memorable was probably Gene Pitney, who was a real gentleman and star; we met for the first time in Las Vegas, which was extraordinary. Marc Bolan holds a special place in my heart too, for both him and Bowie were the soundtracks of my growing up.” While Almond has provided the soundtrack for many lives, his own life has been far from struggle-free; one Telegraph journalist told him that his overwhelming thought having finished reading Tainted Life, was “how is this man still alive?”...to which Almond responded, “sometimes, I wonder that myself.” So what makes Almond, who celebrated his 60th birthday

last year, sad or happy today? “Politics, the current UK government and the hypocrisy of people sadden, disappoint and frustrate me, but Ricky Gervais has filled my life with laughter and joy,” he says. “In terms of places that make me happy, Russia is very special to me, for so many reasons and because of so many people. I’ve had a 30year relationship with Russia and there are so many adventures and stories about that relationship to share, but ultimately it’s about the genuine warmth and generosity within ordinary Russian people that I find remarkable: their indomitable spirit, their extraordinary view of life and death, their connection to the land and their country. I always think of going back to Russia as a kind of going home.” Staying on the subject of being happy and being at home, Almond says that, were he to host the dinner party of his dreams, his fantasy guests would be the fascinating French singer Dalida; inimitable English actor, raconteur and diarist Kenneth Williams; American silver screen icons Gloria Swanson and Lana Turner... and Ricky Gervais, the only one on the list who could actually make the date, given that the others are, sadly, no longer with us. And what does Almond think that he as an 18-year-old, would have said to his grownup self when he received his OBE last year? “It would have been inconceivable to me that I would ever be accepted by the establishment – grown-up me didn’t know what to say when I was told about it!” Would 18-year-old Almond have said something, perhaps, that he would regret today? “Regrets are a complete waste of time,” he says. “Life is too short to be unhappy – we don’t have to be defined by the things we did or didn’t do in our past.” As to how his future is shaping up, Almond is currently putting the finishing touches to a brand-new studio album due for release in February of next year: “It’s really different,” he says; “I hope people will like it as much as I do.” And of the forthcoming tour? “I’ll be sharing many of the most popular songs from my catalogue. Expect a night of hits and surprises. Expect to have a great time.” The time of our life, in fact? I expect so. n

Marc Almond will visit The Forum, Bath on 8 May: bathforum.co.uk

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MAy 2019

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Profile for MC Publishing Limited

The Bath Magazine May 2019  

The Bath Magazine is Bath’s biggest monthly guide to life and living in the city of Bath

The Bath Magazine May 2019  

The Bath Magazine is Bath’s biggest monthly guide to life and living in the city of Bath