Interview: Lisa Stansfield

Lisa Stansfield plays in Edinburgh on 11 April. Picture: Ian Devaney
Lisa Stansfield plays in Edinburgh on 11 April. Picture: Ian Devaney
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Lisa Stansfield has been All Around the World but still loves to tour, especially when she thinks her new album is her best yet. She tells @JanetChristie2 why she can’t wait to play Scotland

You could listen to Lisa Stansfield all day. And that’s without her breaking into song. Never mind the soaring voice that’s put the heart into British soul for decades, it’s her brilliant Rochdale accent, vowels as flat as a cap with houndstooth consonants and dark flecks of profanity that make her someone you just want to hear.

At the Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Awards, London last year with husband and musical partner Ian Devaney.  Picture: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock (8886185ak)

At the Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Awards, London last year with husband and musical partner Ian Devaney. Picture: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock (8886185ak)

“Hi, it’s Lisa. I’m sorreh am leeeeeyt. It’s the weather, it just f**** everything up, doesn’t it?,” she says down the line from the Lancashire mill town, where she’s been recording her new album, out this week. “It’s nice though – if you’re indoors. It’s so bee-yoo-tee-full, the snaw!”

Chatty and cheerful, polite and personable, her voice swooping down low then whooping up high, with the percussion of an infectious, raucous laugh that sounds like the Encyclopedia Britannica being dropped down a wooden staircase, it’s not just what she says, but how she says it. Singer is sin-g-er, birthday is buthday, weird is wee-yurrd and autobiography has more syllables than Rochdale once had mills. When she sings, it’s a different voice altogether, a soul sound that spans the Atlantic and goes All Around the World in influence and inspiration.

“My mum was always playing Motown in the house and Diana Ross and Barry White, they were my teachers. I have this accent because I emulated my mum and dad, then when I started singing, you copy singers and it becomes your voice. Your voice with lots of different people thrown in. Sometimes you’ll do an ad lib and it’s oh my god, that felt a little bit like Prince, or Gladys Knight. It’s really nice, like having friends in on your singing.”

Back from walking the dogs in the snow, Stansfield is full of the joys, despite the cold. Slight and slim, in appearance she’s changed little over the years – elfin features and cropped dark hair often topped off by a variety of hats, from beret to beanie, her diminutive stature the opposite of her music industry status. She’s been at the top since 1989 when she burst onto the scene with no 1 hit All Around the World, followed by a string of international top ten hits including Change, All Woman and Someday. In her three decade career she’s sold almost 20 million records and won a shedload of awards including Brits, Ivor Novello, Billboard Music and Silver Clefs. She could be forgiven, at 52 this month, for sitting back and putting her feet up, but music is what Stansfield does, and her eighth studio album release also kicks off another UK tour, that takes in Edinburgh next month. Stansfield is hoping Deeper will repeat the success of her last album, 2014’s Seven, which saw her back in the top 20 with a sell out European tour.

“I’m so proud of it,” she says of the new album. “I know it’s not nice to blow your own trumpet, but I AM gonna blow me own trumpet because I think it’s the best thing that I’ve done for years and years. I loved Seven, but there is something special about this album and I don’t know what it is. I’m just soooo exci’ed about it.”

So excited that she’s on Twitter, clad in aviator hat and skinny jeans, doing star jumps of delight across a car park like the lovechild of Amelia Earhart and Lee Evans, on hearing that the second album single, Billionaire, has been added to the Radio 2 playlist.

“I’m gonna KILL my dogs in a minute,” she breaks out. “They just won’t stop barking. Stop it!“

David and Mavis can be heard in the background, woofing and generally “dicking around” as Stansfield puts it.

“You’re SUPPOSED to be professional today,” she chides them, fake stern tones giving way to giggles. “Both of ‘em! Setting each other off.”

There’s Mavis, a Yorkie, named for Coronation Street character Mavis Riley, and David who is not named after David Platt. “He could be, but no, he’s Baby David because my mum and dad always wanted a boy and would have named him David. So our little dog is the token boy in the family. He’s a shih tzu and e’ is a little shih tzu I’ll tell ya.” She laughs again.

Maybe it was the four year gap that led to a change in approach or sound on this album?

“Well, I always leave massive gaps between albums,” she says, “because you promote them and now there’s more gigging than ever, because let’s face it, you make money by touring. I really love what I do and I write all the time, get ideas all the time, so you just do it regardless anyway, don’t you? I’ll keep doing it till you chuck me out.”

Tracks on the album include Everything, which Stansfield explains as “when you’re just putting everything on the line and saying if you want it, it’s yours, come and get it. It’s when you have an opportunity, going for it. I’ve done that many times, where I’ve just immediately, the split second I’ve heard about something, had a good feeling and said yeah, I’ll do it, because if I don’t, I would never do anything.

“Then five minutes after that when it’s all sorted I’ll go ‘oh s**t, what have I done? But just do it and face the consequences. One of the only things I’ve regretted was saying yes to a TV special, Motown Mania, and I said I’ll sing you a Diana Ross song. It was just naff. I really don’t like things like that, so I thought how can I get meself out of this but it was too late. I just had to do it, and … I’m cringing now. Don’t watch it!”

What about Billionaire, is that about anyone in particular? At that, Stansfield becomes coy.

“Oh, that’s up to you, dear,” she says and laughs. “It’s about that in general, is being rich all it’s cracked up to be? Honestly, I think if you don’t have happiness and you don’t have love in your life you can have all the money and all the symbols in the world and it won’t make any difference.”

Stansfield knows what she’s talking about as she’s been married to her music partner, Ian Devaney, who she knew at school where they formed a band, since 1988.

“I just love him. He’s got a lot of patience with me. He’s a lot more easy going than me. He’s a water sign and I’m fire, so he calms my fire down a bit. But sometimes it can go the opposite way and I can make him BOIL and he can put my fire out!” She laughs.

The pair moved back to Rochdale after her mum died in 2008, to be near her father and sisters after living in Ireland for years. They had already set up a studio in the town in the 1980s – christening it Gracieland in tribute to another Rochdale songbird, Gracie Fields – and it’s where Stansfield records her albums. There are also homes in London and New York, plus a new place in LA “if it’s still there after the fires”.

“We travel back and forward all the time, so just staying at home is a nice holiday. Though we go away for a few days sometimes, like me last buthday, we went to the Lake District.”

Born in Manchester in 1966 to Marion and Keith, who met at work in a cotton mill in Rochdale, Stansfield grew up in a terraced house with older sister Karen and younger sister Suzanne. At 14 she won the Manchester Evening News Search for a Star competition and released her first single, co-hosting children’s pop show, Razzmatazz, while she was still at school. Her first album Affection, including the hit single All Around the World, sold over five million copies in 1989.

“It’s very strange to think of what happened in your life,” she says, “cos it’s almost like the things that happened were all meant to happen. It’s almost like someone’s gone, oh what shall we do with this girl? You know like your gods were watching over you, and manipulating you to do this and that, and you have no control whatsoever. When you look back, it’s like oh my god! Look at all those things that happened in quick succession. It’s almost like it’s fate.

“When it happens to you, you just don’t question it because there are hundreds of other artists doing the same thing, and I didn’t realise my success was way bigger than a lot of other people’s. Which I suppose was good in a way because I just got on with it.

“You never know what to expect in life, so just roll with the punches and make the most of it. Because you’ve only got one life and you may as well have a really lovely time. And try not to hurt anybody on the way.”

Stansfield has a relaxed confidence that comes from being successful at what she loves doing for so long, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Not that she can’t rock a bias cut gold lamé gown on a video with the best, but she also has a mischievous, quirky streak that makes her a one-off.

For instance there’s no danger of Stansfield needing a plan B careerwise but when she’s not making music she likes to bake and confesses she has thought about it as another way of earning a crust.

“Yeah, I nearly started a business selling cake products. We looked into it but then everybody started doing it and I thought no, they’re all chefs that are doing it, so I’m going to be at the back of the queue.

“I make a really good banana bread and really, REALLY good cakes, like good chocolate cakes. And I’m really good at decorating so it’s like people don’t believe I’ve baked ‘em. It’s really nice when they say ‘no, you’ve got that from the shop!’”

She also does a “really nice pasta with petit pois, pancetta and oyster mushrooms,” her signature dish.

No cream?

“No, I never use cream,” she says, “‘Cos I was married to a Roman and they don’t put cream in the sauce,” she says.

The Roman was Italian designer Augusto Grassi who Stansfield married in 1987, but it ended after a few months. Does she still see him?

“No.” she says, and for once the Stansfield chatter dries up. Perhaps she’ll return to the subject in her autobiography, which she’s writing at the moment, although she’s keen to keep the tone light.

“It’s not very serious. It’s like little vignettes from my life, from childhood onwards. I just pick little stories about me and write ‘em down. I can’t believe some artists,” she says. “They’ll have one album out and they’re write a f***ing autobiography! Or maybe not an AUTObiography,” she says, pointedly. “But I am writing an autobiography. I think 30 years is long enough, don’t you?”

There are plenty of highlights to include in her book, including a duet with her hero Barry White, when she and the Walrus of Love doubled up on All Around the World, and sharing the stage with George Michael at the 1991 Rock In Rio festival.

“Barry White was gorgeous, a very kind, warm person and very gracious, a real gentleman. And that voice, NOBODY will EVER have a voice like that ever again,” she says.

And George Michael, what was he like?

“George Michael was lovely, yeah. We had quite a laugh, actually! Oh no, I won’t tell you what about… but we had a laugh.”

Oh go on, the fruity chuckles coming from Stansfield make you want to be in on the secret.

“No, it’s things that I wouldn’t be able to tell you, you know. But we had a really nice time,” she says. “We did the Freddie Mercury thing and after that went out with Anita Dobson and Brian May, it was really nice.”

However, Stansfield doesn’t often seek out her musical heroes after a bad experience with Aretha Franklin.

“I was completely starstruck with her, and I was at something where she was too, and this guy was going ‘come and meet Aretha, come and meet Aretha,’ and I said ‘I DON’T wanna meet her, PLEASE!’ And I was pulling and pulling to get away, and I thought she doesn’t want to meet me, she doesn’t know ‘oo I am! So anyway, I did meet her and she hardly said a word and she wasn’t very nice. I just ran away and started crying. Now I avoid meeting people that I admire, because a lot of the time they just prove not to be very nice. Well not nice to me. They might be nice people, you know.”

As for ambitions still to fulfil, Stansfield would love to record more with other artists, but as for approaching other singers, “I wouldn’t really know how to go about it,” she says.

Can she not just phone them up and say it’s Lisa Stansfield here…?

“No, it’s like asking someone for a date or something, like going on a dating agency. Duets are us, Duets.com?” She laughs.

As for the wishlist, “Oh my God, I would love to sing with John Newman (Love Me Again), amazing voice, and Emeli Sandé, amazing voice and such a great writer. And Gregory Porter, I LOVE Gregory Porter.”

Also ahead is the tour and Stansfield is looking forward to playing Edinburgh, a city she loves for its “lovely steep streets and grey stone”, and is on a mission to get the Edinburgh audience up dancing.

“As an act, we’re very urban and when we play live, well… it’s not a polite gig really. It’s very in your face. And certain places, they feel they’re being rude if they get up, feel they have to sit down, so no matter how much you try, it’s like flogging a dead horse. I’ve had people come backstage after certain gigs and I’d be embarrassed that nobody had had a good time, then they’ve said ‘we’ve never had as good a time in our lives’ and I’ve thought, well, f***ing hell, what must you be like when you’re bored?”

“I annoyed a whole TOWN because I said it was such a boring gig,” she says. “Ipswich. I’ve never been asked back. Well, there are just certain gigs…You know what it is in those smaller places, the security is always horrible and they will not let up stopping people dancing! I’ve got hold of security men from the back when I’m on stage, pulled them – and they don’t know it’s me because they’ve got their backs to me – and I’m saying let them do what they like! It’s not like they’re gonna f***ing stage dive or anything! It’s a Lisa Stansfield concert. You know what I mean, there’s not going to be a riot!

You never know.

“Yeah, that should be everyone’s main objective at one of my concerts, get thrown out after having a barney!” She laughs.

We’ll see what we can do.

“Yes! That’s right, come to the gig in Edinburgh, come to the front, and party!”

Lisa Stansfield’s new album Deeper 
is out on Friday. She plays the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on Wednesday 11 April. For tickets, see 
www. gigsandtours.com