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Loiners #1 - Marc Almond of Soft Cell


Rich Jevons talks to Soft Cell's Marc Almond about his early days in Leeds, through to his musical travels to France and Russia, before his tour with Jools Holland that comes to York’s Barbican.

How do you look back on the Leeds Poly days [now Leeds Met and soon to become Leeds Beckett University] and The Warehouse etc? Was it just Dave Ball's physique that kept you from being beaten up?

I have so many good memories about Leeds Poly and I'm sad it’s not there anymore, it was where Soft Cell was formed. I've always been good at looking after myself and not putting myself in difficult situations but there were a couple of early gigs that got quite scary. I got hit in the face once, and then it was handy that Dave is quite scary when he's angry.

When ‘Tainted Love’ came out it was a bit of a meteoric rise. How did you cope with this? And do you really hate hearing it now?

‘Tainted Love’ was a huge shock to my life it turned upside down overnight and I was thrown into a very different world with no preparation. For a while I hated it because it came to represent many negative things to me and also because I'd heard it so much over a couple of years. Over the years I've come to embrace it and love it and appreciate it. It’s given me a comfortable life and I'm proud that it’s become a classic that has been a big part of people’s life soundtrack.

Even in the early days you were very out with your sexuality, for example during interviews with publications or magazines. I know it's not a strategy but did you think it has been important to do this?

I think that magazines like Smash Hits presumed about my sexuality. I didn't like to talk about it actually. In the early '80s it could still be a career killer. I didn't want to be labelled a gay artist and still don’t. One day I just blurted it out in an interview, I hadn't planned to. In one sense it was a relief.

The drug use was becoming more common knowledge and obvious. Whatever you say though, the press will still make up things and say what they want, now they can label me 'gay 80's artist' officially, much to my annoyance.

I also remember an extensive NME interview with Chris Bohn entirely on Jacques Brel. What particularly interests you in his work?

It was artists like Bowie and Scott Walker in the '70s that turned me onto Brel. His songs cover all aspects of life and tell stories. He mixes the poetical romance with a street grittiness. Watching him perform on DVD, he's electric. He's a very physical performer, bringing his songs to life whatever the language.

Following in troubadour mode can you tell us a bit about your love affair with Russia? I thought ‘Heart on Snow’ was one of the best things you've done, but then it did coincide with a particularly painful break-up - melancholy music as therapy.

Russia is very seductive, I think it was Winston Churchill that called it a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a mystery (maybe not in that order). When touring there I was given so many tapes (before CDs) of Russian Folk songs they call 'Romance songs' and loved them. Russians are quite depressive and melancholic and these sad songs lifted their spirit like an exorcism, I lived in Moscow on and off for three years while I recorded the album, meeting many fantastic musicians and interesting people.

Why the love of kitsch and cabaret?

I don’t really like applying words like Kitsch and Cabaret to my songs, though I like a little bit of melodrama sometimes. Whatever I do I like to keep one foot in to Rock Music or Pop, even if it has a so-called cabaret slant in the way artists like Bowie used theatrical references.

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Marc’s latest pop release is ‘The Dancing Marquis’ which initially I assumed would be a reference to the Marquis de Sade but in fact the title track is penned ‘with Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey in mind’. This song is produced by the legendary Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T Rex, Morrissey) who also gives producer Tris Penna a helping hand with string arrangements and mixing duties on ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ and ‘Death of a Dandy’. The latter is inspired by the death in 2010 of Soho’s tragic artist Sebastian Horsley.

Alongside this are the buoyant ‘Burn Bright’, reminiscent of the positivity on the Glorious album; ‘Worship Me Now’, a paean on fame and stardom written especially for Marc by Jarvis Cocker; and the more melancholic Love Is Not On Trial, a collaboration with Carl Barât (The Libertines).

Also out now is the Ten Plagues CD/DVD that is an hour-long song cycle by playwright Mark Ravenhill (Shopping and Fucking, Mother Clap’s Molly House, The Cut) with music by Conor Mitchell (Missing Mel, Matilde, The Dummy Tree). Set in the 1665 Great Plague of London, Marc comments: ‘You could take Ten Plagues literally, as a historical piece. But you can see parallels at a time when we seem to be obsessed with fear, pandemic and viruses.'

Good luck with the tour Marc and thanks for thirty years of some of Britain's best musical output.