He may have a gong and a growing penchant for prog rock, but Marc Almond has stayed true to his synthpop roots, he tells Fiona Shepherd
For those of us old enough to remember the impact and confusion created by an elfin, androgynous, eye-linered leather boy performing a cult northern soul cover on Top Of The Pops back in 1981, it is a little disorientating to behold Peter Mark Sinclair Almond OBE in his early 60s.The Soft Cell frontman, solo chanteur and creator of such transgressive numbers as Sex Dwarf was recognised for his services to arts and culture in the 2018 New Year’s Honours list and, just as insurance and butter adverts came to his fellow musical mavericks Iggy Pop and John Lydon, Marc Almond has entirely embraced his OBE status.
“It’s a huge honour, totally unexpected and I am beyond thrilled,” he says, adding, “it was a pleasure to receive the award from Prince William – he’s been instrumental in raising awareness about mental health so we spoke about that.”
Almond has had his own mental health battles, not least clawing his way back to fitness following a grave motorcycle crash in 2004 that left him in a coma for weeks, triggered the return of a childhood stammer and affected his ability to sing. He is now a patron of the Headway brain injury association, though his charitable endeavours also extended to singing at fashion mogul Roland Mouret’s recent Edinburgh fundraiser for Maggie’s Centres.
Almond will return to the city on Tuesday, headlining the Waverley Stage at the Hogmanay street party. “The people here are so warm and friendly – there is always a great vibe,” he says. “I love coming to Scotland.”
Indeed, his Hogmanay appearance will be his third Scottish performance in a matter of weeks, following his stint on the Let’s Rock the Retro tour alongside fellow 80s pop alumni ABC, Nik Kershaw, Tony Hadley and Toyah.
Again, Almond seems an odd fit for the nostalgia market – bet none of his tourmates have released a concept album about London’s dark underbelly (2014’s The Tyburn Tree), a tribute to the Russian tenor Vadim Kozin (2009’s Orpheus In Exile) or performed a song cycle inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Journal Of The Plague Year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2011’s Ten Plagues).
But like his peers the Pet Shop Boys, Almond has no trouble crossing between esoteric art projects and mainstream pop expression. “There is no getting away from it,” he says, “I was definitely a big part of the 80s scene. Although I am lucky enough to have had a very varied career, you have to remember your roots and embrace them.”
Those roots were embraced last year with a one-off high-profile Soft Cell reunion gig at the O2 Arena in London, a giant gathering of outsider tribes to witness Almond’s first show with his instrumentalist wingman Dave Ball since the duo re-united for an album and tour in the early 2000s.
“I feel we went out with a bang,” says Almond. “It was one big party. I felt a huge mixture of emotions but mostly I was so touched by the fans and their love for the music after all these years.”
Having looked back in recent times, it seems only appropriate that the New Year should bring new music. Chaos And A Dancing Star, an album of “mostly apocalyptic love songs” co-written with Sia collaborator Chris Braide, will be released at the end of January and represents another left turn for Almond – into Nietzsche-quoting prog rock, if the guest appearance by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on taster track Lord Of Misrule is any indication.
“I’ve always thought there was a touch of pagan mischief about Ian,” says Almond. “It’s a kind of alternative Christmas song.”
Marc Almond plays Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party tonight