Interview: Sharleen Spiteri

Sharleen Spiteri,
Sharleen Spiteri,

Sharleen Spiteri is in a good mood. Celebrating the release of a new album, Jump on Board, the Texas frontwoman is full of the joys as she sits in her home in London’s Primrose Hill, at the top of her game. Her band’s mix of rock, soul and new country has seen them sell more than 35 million records, with 10 albums, including three number ones, and 13 top ten singles and now they’re back with a new album, a 21-date tour this autumn, plus as she approaches 50, she’s just got engaged to her partner of a decade, Welsh chef Bryn Williams.

“Jump on Board,” she explains. “The title is from a line within the song Let’s Work It Out, and it just summed up the whole album. It’s like, you know what? You should be a part of this. Join with us and be happy, enjoy life. It’s a celebration, about coming of age.” Written and produced by Spiteri and Texas founder Johnny McElhone, Jump on Board is all new, following on from their last album, Texas 25, which saw a re-recording of some of their biggest hits for their 25th anniversary in 2015. The single Let’s Work It Out features Thierry Henry in the video, and has been playlisted at Radio 2 – the band recently performed on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show – with Spiteri booked for upcoming appearances on Saturday Kitchen and BBC Breakfast.

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Is the working it out, enjoying life, confined to making music, or is it part of a bigger message in our post-Brexit, post-Trump world?

“Well, it’s how we’ve been feeling as far as making a record is concerned,” she says, “but probably in terms of the bigger picture, and what most people are feeling right now, we’re in a very strange time. It’s about actually stopping and thinking about things, finding a way round it, a way to make it work for ourselves and moving forward.”

Spiteri is all for putting out a positive message, but being a straight talking woman, there’s a no-nonsense approach to her affirmations, a FFS, pull yourself together tone that makes talking to her refreshing.

With her jeans, short, sharp haircuts, boots and black and white Fender Telecaster 1967 – “because that’s what Joe Strummer played and I loved The Clash” – Spiteri has never succumbed to industry pressure to look feminine or dumb herself down over her 30 year career.

“I don’t think I have a cute bone in my body,” she says. “I was never cute as a kid, just physically the way I looked, and I don’t do the ‘little old me thing’, it’s not really my personality at all. And yeah, I don’t think my daughter does it either,” she says, referring to Misty Kyd, her 14-year-old from her long-term relationship with former Arena magazine editor, Ashley Heath.

Today Spiteri lives in Primrose Hill with Williams, chef and proprietor of Odette’s restaurant, Misty Kyd and a Welsh terrier called Sox. She’s been a fixture of the Primrose Hill set for years – Noel Gallagher, Stella McCartney and Gwyneth Paltrow are friends and she knows everyone from Madonna to Debbie Harry.

Born in Glasgow, Spiteri was raised in the city until she moved to Balloch at 12 with her parents, Eddie, a merchant seaman who loved to play guitar and her mother Vilma, a window-dresser with a great voice. Moving back to Glasgow when she was a teenager, she worked as a hairdresser until the band took off. She still cuts hair “all the time.” Last night Bryn got a trim. “I just cut it short,” she says. “It’s a guy’s haircut, innit. Hairdressing set me up for what I do now, and it’s very much a big part of who I am.”

Named after the film, Paris Texas, the band was formed in 1986 in Glasgow by bassist Johnny McElhone. Their 1989 album Southside won praise, but it was White on Blonde in 1997 that put them firmly on the international stage with hits like Say What You Want and Black Eyed Boy. After The Hush in 1999, Careful What You Wish for in 2003 and Red Book, in 2005 the band took a break that turned into an eight-year hiatus during which Spiteri released solo albums Melody and The Movie Songbook. Then in 2013, to the delight of their legions of fans, Texas were back with The Conversation and two years later celebrated 25 years of the band, with Texas 25.

With nothing left to prove Texas sound as if they’re enjoying themselves and the single Let’s Work It Out has a just get up and dance, whatever, vibe.

“That’s what we were after. You’re not trying to dance like Madonna, it’s just that euphoric moment when you hear a record and you just want to throw your hands up in the air and dance. You find yourself at a wedding and suddenly go, Oh My God, I love this one, and run onto the dance floor. You don’t care that you’re up there on your own, it’s just that feeling of happiness, that freedom of I don’t give a shit what I look like, I don’t care what I’m doing, I’m just going to have a great old jig. It wasn’t what we were trying to do, but it’s where we got to, and it was ‘aw yeah, this is where we want to be’ because it felt so good.”

So what about the video for the single, all glitterballs and dancing in strappy gold sandals and being driven around in a sports car by Thierry Henry? What’s it all about?

“Who knows? Who knows where he’s driving me to. Where we’re actually going? I don’t really know. It doesn’t matter. Just to be sitting in a car with Thierry is fine by me. We’ve been mates for years, and now the kids are all mates and hang out together and it’s really nice to have that friendship. I had played him the record and he liked it, so I asked him to be in it.”

Over the years Spiteri has recruited a string of cool co-stars for Texas videos. There was French actor Jean Reno in 2003’s I’ll See it Through and Vicky McClure on Dry Your Eyes as well as Peter Mullan in an art heist themed escapade in The Conversation. And to cap it all there’s the envy-inducing tango on the garage forecourt with Alan Rickman for In Demand in 2000.

“I’ve been so lucky to have so many amazing people. It’s funny because I’m sitting here with the television on, and Galaxy Quest is on right now,” she says.

Rickman played Alexander Dane in the 1999 comedy sci fi film.

“I miss him a lot because he was just such a good friend. You could just phone him anytime and get advice and he’d come to gigs and was always so amazing and generous. I’ve always repeated that joke, that once you’ve danced the tango with someone, you’re forever friends. After we made that video, that was it.”

Losing friends is part of life, and as Spiteri approaches her 50th birthday in November, she counts her blessings but she’s not nearly ready to hang up her Telecaster yet.

“In my mind I’m not this age because I enjoy life so much. Everything still feels new and fresh. I never feel ‘Oh yeah, I know this,’ or ‘I’ve done that’, I never get bored with life.

“I get bored with people’s attitudes sometimes, though. I’m like oh, f*** off and put a smile on your face. Some people could look at that and say yeah, that’s easy for you to say but you know what, it’s what you make of things. I didnae just come into this and start at this end of it. I worked my bollocks off for a long, long time. And probably work even harder now to stay part of it and continually be relevant.”

Despite the hard work, Spiteri gets more enjoyment these days from the experience. Along with the buzz she is able to sit back, slow it down, savour it more. She quotes a line from For Everything on the new album.

“‘Now that I am old I have a peace of mind’. I think that sums it up. It’s funny because as you get older you’re more rebellious and punk than you ever were when you were young, because you actually, really, truly, don’t give a flying f*** any more.

“When you’re young you want to make a good impression so if someone was talking rubbish I’d sit with a smile on my face, but now I just say ‘yeah, great, listen, seriously, I need to go, yep, whatever, you can sit and talk shit to yourself all day, but I’m moving on.’”

Quite right, but does she ever think she takes her straight-talking too far?

“No. Never.”

We both laugh.

“I was brought up to be nice, be kind, but also to speak my mind if I feel I’m in a situation that I’m not comfortable with, to say no, I am not happy with this. I’m not about saying something nasty for effect. If people are just saying something to make people feel bad about themselves, then no, just shut your big fat gob, but if I’m saying something, it’s because there’s somewhere I want to go with it. There’s a massive difference between being honest and saying something in a way that is positive and being downright rude.”

As a songwriter with a worldwide audience, Spiteri doesn’t lack for an outlet for self-expression, and relationships, their highs and lows, are the stuff of much of Texas’s output.

“But you don’t think of it like that,” she says. “When you’re writing a song, you don’t ever imagine anyone else is going to hear it. But I know how much music affects my life and my emotions and feelings, so it’s lovely to think that people might hear you.

“As a younger writer, I didn’t say half the stuff I felt because I was scared of giving too much of myself away, but now I’m a lot more open. I write things now that I would never have imagined in the past, being that emotional and honest.”

Since she’s talking about being emotional and honest this seems a good juncture to congratulate her on her recent engagement.

“Thank you, at the shameful age of almost 50. I kind of do things the wrong way round,” she says.

“Marriage has never been an issue in my or Bryn’s life, but obviously he wanted to ask me, and then it was left to me to answer. I was so taken aback that it took me a couple of minutes. I was pretty gobsmacked. He said ‘If I’d known that this is what it took to keep you quiet, I would have asked you a lot earlier.’” She laughs.

“He asked me, I don’t know why – sometimes if you need to know everything you kill the moment. I guess we were just at the right place in our lives and it felt right. You know what? He’s great, I said yes, I’m happy and we’re happy together and you just think, yeah! Let’s do this. To try and put something like that into words… well, that’s why I’m a songwriter. I’ll put it in a song, rather than sit and try to talk about my relationship,” she says.

You want the inside track on Spiteri, on falling in and out of love, the breakdown of her relationship to Misty Kyd’s father, meeting Williams and starting afresh, keeping it going for a decade – you’ll have to listen to the songs.

Now Spiteri can’t wait to get on the road to play the new album and is particularly looking forward to returning to Glasgow and playing the Bandstand at Kelvingrove in the summer.

“I grew up in Finnieston, so I’ve spent many an afternoon in that park as a kid. I’ve danced on that bandstand many a time, with my mum going ‘get down!’. Hopefully she won’t be shouting that this time.”

These days Spiteri performs for the fun of it. She no longer needs the money, it’s just what she does.

“It’s never been about money,” she says. “If you do anything for money, you’ll never make any. You’ve got to do something you believe in. I feel very, very lucky to do something I love because that isn’t always the case for people.

“But it’s very easy to be miserable. When I was a junior in hairdressing, I mean who wants to clean the toilets? But you go naw, take a bit of pride in it! I used to reference Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin when she scrubs the toilet with the toothbrush, thinking I’m in a movie, I’m going to kid on that these have got to be the cleanest toilets on the planet! It’s about how you view things and how you make it work, and in my stupid crazy way, that’s how I make things work.”

Sharleen Spiteri, 13 top ten singles, more than 35 million albums sold worldwide, and the cleanest toilets in Primrose Hill.

Jump on Board, the new album by Texas is released on 21 April on BMG. Texas, Summer Nights at the Bandstand, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow, 31 July, (1 and 2 August sold out) Texas’ 21-date UK tour includes Edinburgh Usher Hall, 23 September; Dundee, Caird Hall, 24 September and Inverness, Leisure Centre, 25 September;