Interview: Amy Macdonald

Amy Macdonald plays Sleep in the Park next Saturday
Amy Macdonald plays Sleep in the Park next Saturday
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Amy Macdonald on why playing Sleep in the Park matters to her

Home means a lot to Amy Macdonald, the 30-year-old Scottish singer who has sold more than nine million albums worldwide, clocked up more than 100 million streams on Spotify and 75 million hits on YouTube since she signed her first record deal as a Bishopbriggs schoolgirl. This year alone she’s put in hundreds of appearances so a life on the road means she appreciates the simple things about having a place to come home to.

“It’s just about being able to go out my front door and take my dog for a nice walk. That’s not something I can ever take with me,” says the singer who has played in front of 3.2 million people in 20 countries and released her fourth album Under Stars earlier this year.

Macdonald will be joining Bob Geldof, Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Frightened Rabbit, John Cleese and Rob Bryden, along with thousands of people supporting Sleep in the Park on 9 December. Organised by homeless charity Social Bite, it will be the world’s biggest ever sleepout with 9,000 people expected to bed down under the stars after music from top acts, including Macdonald and a bedtime story from Cleese, with breakfast being served up with the help of Rob Bryden and various politicians. With a minimum fundraising commitment of £100 per person (which includes a £50 donation) the aim is to raise cash to help eradicate homelessness over a five year period by providing people with housing, rehabilitation, job opportunities and support to get back on their feet.

“It’s such a great idea,” says Macdonald. “A T-in-the-Park style event with people like Liam Gallagher helps raise so much more awareness. I’m certain it will raise a lot of cash and that’s brilliant. I’m always happy to be part of something like that. It will help towards getting rid of homelessness once and for all.

“It’s one of these baffling things about the world we live in that there is still homelessness, and it’s good that there are charities like Social Bite that go all out to help and make a difference,” she says.

With the thermometer expected to plummet, Macdonald is busy planning a stripped back acoustic set with her band. “One of the problems trying to play an instrument outside in the cold is your fingers give up on you and you can’t wear gloves, even fingerless. So we’re interested to see how we get on!” She laughs. “I’ve performed a few times in crazy conditions though, and I’m happy to be part of this.

“We’re doing a busking-style gig and I’ve just finished a solo acoustic tour, so I’ve had loads of practise. Hopefully it will work well in Princes Street Gardens, and I’ll be keeping things as upbeat as possible, to keep people in good spirits.”

Macdonald has four albums of material to choose a playlist from, including Under Stars, which entered the UK album chart at No 2 on its release in February. Signed to Universal at 18, she has evolved over the past decade from talented teenager to arena-filling performer.

“Over that time I’ve just grown up. On my first album some of the songs were written when I was 14 or 15 so your life experience means you change, but my style is similar. My aim is always catchy songs, or songs with meaning and I want to write music people can relate to, about things anyone could go through, just real, honest music… songs that mean something, songs that are inspired by true life events. It’s very inoffensive, it’s upbeat, feelgood most of the time, and means something to me. I’m a very emotional person anyway and constantly wear my heart on my sleeve, so it’s not difficult to put that out there in my music.

“I do think I’ve a knack for a catchy song and there’s plenty across my four albums. Songwriting has never been something I’ve thought about that much – I just kind of open my mouth and off I go. I hear other people talking about how they sit and spend ages and I just think, ‘Oh gosh, that isn’t me. I’m not a prolific writer, I don’t sit and spend all day, hours on end writing songs’ – I’m too lazy!” She laughs.

Macdonald is the perfect person to entertain at a sleepover, the type who can never sleep for chatting, a trait she employs at her gigs with the vocal interludes she accredits to Travis’ Fran Healy.

“I’ve seen them so many times and every show he would explain songs during the gig, tell you exactly where he was when he wrote it, what he was thinking, what he was doing and I absolutely loved that. I kind of took his very chatty in-between songs thing and do that when I play a gig. I always like it when bands chat to you. For me the best part is connecting with your audience and I think it’s important to tell stories and jokes and have a laugh.”

Macdonald is also happy to speak her mind about more serious issues, from endorsing the Yes campaign to opposing Brexit, making her the perfect fit for Sleep in the Park.

“It comes from school, where I loved modern studies,” she says. “I think it’s really important to know what’s going on and even more so now, because people seem to not care about anything. We’re all consumed by social media. But people need to spend time thinking about things that are genuinely really important.”

Standing up for what you believe in and owning your opinions is something Macdonald was brought up with in a home where healthy debate was encouraged.

“All of my family and friends have always been very into what’s going on in the world. I used to spend my Saturday afternoons at my nana and grandad’s house, and every time it would be my mum and grandad arguing with each other over politics. They never agreed, but it always ended in a hug and ‘right, see you next week!’.

“If you’re gonna debate with people you can’t get too emotionally involved,” she says. “We saw that with the referendums, people getting too emotional and struggling with that, but you have to be able to have an argument about your different political opinions then still be friends at the end of the day. It’s good to talk about things and realise you can have different opinions and still be friends. Some people take it far too personally.”

Macdonald doesn’t take it personally, even when having an opinion lays her open to attack.

“Everything you say or do brings you criticism these days,” she says. “It would be much easier to just sit on the fence, and a lot of people do, but that doesn’t sit well with me because that isn’t who I am. It’s healthy to have an opinion. If you can talk about it and back up why that’s your opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re far too scared to speak out. With social media and the way the world is, whatever you say and whatever you do, somebody’s gonna get annoyed. So you just need to think, ‘ach bugger it’, and say what you think. You might have your feelings hurt or whatnot, but I still think it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.”

Brexit in particular is something Macdonald thinks we should be shouting about, not least because she’s spent the whole of this year touring Europe and plans to do so in the future.

“It would completely change the way it works for so many musicians, having to apply for visas and work permits for every single country you perform in,“ she says. “It’s not something I’m looking forward to. Brexit is just one mess after another and so many people just don’t even talk about it – what’s happening here?” she says, voice rising in indignation. “Do people just not care?”

Macdonald has always been big in Europe, choosing to focus on performing for her UK and European fanbase rather than attempting to conquer America.

“It’s not something I’ve ever been desperate to do. It’s extremely hard work, often leads to nothing, and you neglect all the people that’ve supported you from the beginning. I’m busy enough with the UK and Europe and really happy with that,” she says.

Her hard work has paid off, particularly in Germany where Macdonald says she’s played some of her best gigs, with a personal highlight being an outdoor festival in Bonn this summer.

“It literally had not stopped raining all day – it made rain in Scotland seem nice – then I went out and every single person that had bought a ticket, all 5,000, had turned up and were standing in the rain. It was one of those real special moments, where you go, oh my gosh, these people are standing in the rain to see me. I just really appreciated it. It was one of those ones where it could have been terrible but it was actually brilliant.”

Despite being away on the road a lot, Macdonald says she’s very close to her father, a retired surveyor and mother, a retired accountant, and radiologist sister. Back home there’s also her fiancé, St Johnstone defender Ricky Foster, who she reckons she has the edge on fitness-wise.

“It pains him to admit it,” she says and laughs. “I’m incredibly fit, probably something people don’t realise, but I’m a bit of a machine. I’ve yet to come across anybody that can keep up with me when I do circuits. I do running, weightlifting, a bit of everything. I regularly try and make my band join in when we’re away but nobody can hack it. I love to push myself as far as I can, so every single day I spend sweating in a heap, no matter where I am.

“It started when I went on holiday to New York in 2013 with my friends after my third album campaign. After a week of excess I felt absolutely terrible so I started doing regular exercise and it just blossomed from there. It’s good for you mentally too. Without it I’d just be miserable,” she says.

A memento from a trip to Vegas is her love heart tattoo, the first of many skulls, roses and mandala patterns. “My friends forced me into it. We got more when we were in New York and Berlin, it’s a thing we do, a memory of the trip. Once you’ve got the tattoo bug it never leaves you,” she says.

Success came quickly to Macdonald after her teenage signing in 2007 and by 2010, she was dueting Dead End Street with Ray Davies on the album See My Friends.

“He did a song with Springsteen too for that album, and he was saying how starstruck he was, going to Springsteen’s house in New Jersey to his recording studio. He just couldn’t believe he was going there to do this, but when they got there the first thing Bruce did was ask him if he could get a photo with Ray – he was just as starstruck. I absolutely loved that, both of them with wonderful careers, yet in awe of each other. Brilliant.”

Macdonald’s live covers of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark and Born to Run are always big with the crowd, so has she ever met The Boss himself?

“Yes, I have,” she says. “But we didn’t speak about me doing his songs. He’s normal and easy going and really happy to chat away. We have both worked with the producer Bob Clearmountain, so we had that connection, and chatted about all things music. He definitely seems like one of the good guys in life.”

After the buzz that is Sleep in the Park, Macdonald rounds off the year with a couple of homecoming gigs at Glasgow’s Barrowland.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been a crazy, hectic, brilliant year and I feel extremely lucky to be able to do what I do. You don’t know what’s going to happen, in the music industry, and in life, so you just have to take it as it comes. There are people that want me to make albums and play gigs, so as long as that continues, I’ll carry on. I’m really happy with my lot. I feel very lucky... great family, great friends, very content. It’s so boring... but that’s how I feel!”

And Glasgow’s famous venue is close to Macdonald’s heart.

“I’ve been very lucky to play in some amazing places over the past ten years but there’s something really special about the Barrowlands. It’s 
got a great sound, brilliant atmosphere and there’s always real excitement; nowhere tops it. I love that it’s still a complete mess and nobody’s ever going to change it, because there would be outrage if they did. It’s just got that special feeling. It’s everything. The stars all align at the same time in the Barrowlands.”

Sometimes there’s just no place like home.

@JanetChristie2

Sleep in the Park (www.sleepinthepark.co.uk) will take place in Edinburgh on Saturday 9 December. If you are unable to take part, you can still support Social Bite and its mission to end homelessness at www.sleep inthe park.co.uk/pledges

Amy Macdonald plays The Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 December, www.glasgow-barrowland.com