ALISON Goldfrapp – she of the perv-fetish stagewear and a dab hand at playing theremin with her crotch – is pondering this year's performance aesthetic. The duo to which the singer lends her name, Goldfrapp, will be on tour later this spring in support of the euphoric disco-pop of their fifth album Head First. Later this dreary day in London, Alison and her musical partner, keyboard/computer guru Will Gregory, are meeting their new band members. The tour look, she reports, is evolving as w
Will the pink jumpsuit that Alison is sporting in Goldfrapp's new publicity shot make an appearance? "I'm a big fan of the jumpsuit," she replies in the curiously prim and often monotonously flat way she speaks – in stark contrast to the giddy, breathy vamp she morphs into on stage and record. "I've got about ten."
"None of them are leather," she adds, "but they do come in a range of neon colours." Are they good for wearing about the house? "They're good for just about everything, I have to say. They're all-in-one, you don't have to think about the top or bottom. Very practical. I'm not sure if it'll be good stagewear, though." Would there be chaffing? She cackles. "Well, you can always cut the legs off, which is what I did with one of them the other day, 'cause I was bored with it."
"What did that look like?" asks shaggy-haired Gregory, sitting next to her on the sofa in a private members' club in Soho. "It looked cool actually. It looked like a jumpsuit with no legs. But I don't know," she sighs. "I might have got bored with the jumpsuit already."
Goldfrapp's stage performances are not just about empty spectacle. They're about trying to tell a story, but it has to be part of the music, part of that world. Given that Head First is a soaring, zooming pop album full of glorious Eighties synth anthems more fun than the hip, would-be cool iteration of the Eighties peddled by La Roux and Little Boots, that presentation is crucial. Spandex? Guitars that shoot flames? Keyboards played like guitars? Given the title and feel of sky-scraping first single Rocket, is a space-age kitsch-fest stage-set likely?
"We've done the mirrorball," muses Goldfrapp, "and we've done horses heads. I did jumpsuits before too, in 2005 as well. But they were a lot tighter."
Not that the famously private Goldfrapp – she's long refused to divulge even her age, but is probably around 43 – needs a bit more give in her jumpsuits these days. But ten years into the life of the band she and Gregory, 40, formed after careers as a session singer (Alison with Orbital and Tricky) and a player-producer-arranger (Gregory with Michael Nyman and Portishead), she knows what makes her comfortable as a frontwoman. Not least because she does it all on her own – Gregory doesn't perform onstage, and very often doesn't even accompany her on tour.
"I remember once we did a Polish festival with Massive Attack, and we must have gone on stage three times," Goldfrapp says. "And every time we just got there and got going, got the all-clear, suddenly the whole sound would fail again. I just f***ing gave up in the end. And it started raining. And there's a lot of Polish people standing there looking at us like we were just total arseholes. They weren't happy."
A forthright, no-nonsense, whipsmart diva, Goldfrapp takes such things on the chin, sometimes because she has no choice. Gregory, she notes, "does the occasional gig when we're in England. But once we're on tour, we're offski."
"Basically, I'm there for the first load of dates to make sure the machinery works," chips in Gregory. "Then there's a tear-stained hanky and a wave goodbye."
"Yeah, right," says Goldfrapp, snorting and laughing. "You're like, yes, thank God, that's them gone. He only goes to places where they do nice food and the sun's shining."
"Well, yeah, but..." blusters Gregory good-naturedly. "I tell you what, on one tour there was 120 gigs and I was at 76 of them. So," he nods mock-soberly, "it's not all gravy."
They make an odd couple. The anorak-clad, rucksack-wearing Gregory remains living in the countryside near Bath; this self-sufficient duo habitually record at his studio there. Goldfrapp, who also has a home in the area, recently returned to living in London, to immerse herself in the hurly-burly of the metropolis's arts and fashion worlds that inspire her.
"And I just really wanted to be near my friends," says the Hampshire-born singer. "I spend a lot of time touring, and then being out in the countryside as well meant I just felt incredibly isolated. Being back in London is great actually cause it feels there's much more of a balance in my life. I get to work but it also means I get to have a cup of tea with a mate. It stops you going completely insane."
Gregory, meanwhile, likes being hunkered down in the studio. He evokes the professorial muso type one imagines inhabited the bowels of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Goldfrapp, on the other hand, wears Ray-Ban sunglasses indoors, her default position might be described as amusingly narked, and she's much given to withering moans delivered in a Little Britain "computer says no" voice. It's very refreshing, and entertaining.
Despite their contrasting personalities, she and Gregory's writing partnership has proved remarkably durable and successful. And flexible too – last year they collaborated on the orchestral score for Sam Taylor-Wood's John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy, recorded with a 35-piece string section at Abbey Road.
Prior to the film's release I interviewed its music supervisor Ian Neil. In a soundtrack full of period rock'n'roll, he described Goldfrapp's contribution as "creating music to pull on the heartstrings in certain dramatic moments, to be subtle and not get in the way of the dialogue". "For me," he added, "Goldfrapp weren't the obvious call for this task. But the film's editor is a friend of Alison."
It later transpired that Nowhere Boy's editor, Lisa Gunning, was more than just a friend. Last December, in a Sunday newspaper, Goldfrapp, who had previously dated men, was outed in an article headlined "The Rise Of Mid-Life Lesbians".
Goldfrapp won't be going into any details of her relationship. But she's chipper enough when I raise the subject. And she's sufficiently smart, savvy and secure in her own jumpsuit to laugh at the absurdity of her personal life becoming a subject of newspaper titillation.
"It was a bit alarming," she admits. "I just didn't know about it." Still, she was chuffed that they used a nice picture.
Again, her cackle rattles around the drowsy quiet of the private members' club lounge. She's clearly a lot more chilled about and buoyed by her relationship than the old Alison was when discussing her private life. No wonder the sunglasses are still on. At home, and on their sparkling new album, things are a lot brighter for Goldfrapp, the woman and the band.
Head First is released on 22 March on Mute. Goldfrapp play T in the Park in July. www.goldfrapp.com
• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, March 14, 2010