The Scotsman Sessions #250: Sharleen Spiteri & Tony McGovern

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Sharleen Spiteri & Tony McGovern of Texas perform an acoustic version of their single Hi at Gorbals Sound studio in Glasgow

Sharleen Spiteri has just scarfed down a particularly piquant bowl of Asian noodles made by her daughter Misty and is feeling the effects as she readies herself for interview. “I love really spicy food but I ate them about 15 minutes ago and my lips are still burning,” she says. “I’m sounding a bit like Elkie Brooks.”

But is Spiteri complaining? No. Rather, she is grateful. Grateful that, in a household of cooks, her daughter is keen on commandeering the kitchen. Spiteri’s husband and Misty’s step-dad is celebrity chef Bryn Williams, while Spiteri herself is handy with the utensils, habitually taking on much of the household cooking when she is not away on tour with beloved Scotpop veterans Texas (so that’s a year and counting…)

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“It’s nice when other people in the house cook to give you a break so I’m quite lucky on that front,” she says. “God help the person in lockdown that had to cook for their family every night, because you must have been tearing your hair out.”

Sharleen Spiteri and Tony McGovern

Spiteri is also grateful that lockdown provided an opportunity to reflect and clear her head following the sudden death of her mother. Vilma Spiteri passed away from lung cancer in the days just before Covid hit and hospital visits and funerals became, by necessity, circumscribed affairs.

“That’s why I went into lockdown in a very different headspace because I was very aware that people were dying and I know what that feels like,” says Spiteri. “The one comfort we had was that we were with my mum. There were people who lost friends and family and didn’t get to say goodbye, they didn’t get to have that moment. Some of my friends lost their parents to Covid, they just got taken away in an ambulance and they never saw them again, so I felt like one of the lucky ones.

“My mum didn’t want a funeral so we did a little thing at the café where my mum used to walk the dog because she loved it there. Everybody came and was able to pay their respects and talk about my mum in a nice environment. We were very lucky.”

That word “lucky” again. It seems that Spiteri has inherited her thankfulness and empathy from her mum. Vilma was a seamstress and the family were able to fulfil her dying wishes to donate fabric that she had amassed over the years to produce PPE during the pandemic.

“It was very strange because it feels like yesterday and it feels like a lifetime because so much has happened in that space of time,” says Spiteri, who spent her lockdown year in Wales. “Just to be with my family and have that time after this was really amazing. I’ve never had that time and to have it at that moment was really good for me, because I would have been out on tour and would probably have crashed and burned.”

True enough, in a parallel universe, Texas would have spent 2020 touring in support of their tenth album, Hi. Instead, they went with a pandemic postponement, finally releasing the album a few weeks ago, when it promptly shot into the Top 3, giving the band their best album chart placing in over 20 years.

“The album is very up,” says Spiteri. “You’ve got Mr Haze, which is the big Motowny disco thing, you’ve got country, you’ve got soul, you’ve got ballads. It goes all over the place but works as an album.”

Its overall sunny disposition, combining Donna Summer samples with guest appearances from old friends such as Clare Grogan and Richard Hawley, has chimed with the gradual emergence from lockdown into what promises to be a more social summer.

Spiteri took advantage of the loosening of restrictions to return to her native Glasgow, where she and Texas guitarist Tony McGovern recorded an acoustic performance of the album’s title track at Gorbals Sound studio to mark the 250th edition of the Scotsman Sessions.

“I like that, that’s a nice number,” says Spiteri. “Thank you so much for asking us, we were really flattered. We tried to make it look as friendly as we possibly could.”

The album version of the track features guest raps from their old buddies the Wu Tang Clan, the Staten Island hip-hop supergroup with whom Texas first collaborated at the 1998 Brit Awards.

“We originally wrote Hi on acoustic and it sounds a bit western, it’s got that driving Morricone twang, that outlaw feel,” says Spiteri, “and I always think of the Wu Tang as outlaws. They’re a gang on this mission to do what they need to do. I really think they took the song to another place, and it was great to show the friendship and the respect between us and the Wu Tang is still there.”

Inevitably with travel restrictions, their collaboration took place remotely. “I wouldn’t want to work like that all the time,” says Spiteri. “I think the creative juices flow better when you’re all in the same room.”

However, Spiteri also embraces many of the changes she has seen in the music industry, not just in lockdown, but across the last 35 years. “The reason I joined a band was because I didn’t want any rules,” she says. “I didn’t want somebody telling me what I could do and what I couldn’t do, and I’ve always stuck by that. The music industry more than ever tries to put you in a box but I think there is an amazing time coming with young bands and young writers taking control of their own destiny. They’ll be very aware how important playing live is and how important catalogue is which means you need to make albums. Back in the day when we were first making records you had to have that big amount of money to get in the studio. Nowadays we can make records on computers, we can put it up on streaming media, so I just think record companies watch out!”

Hi is out now on BMG Records. Texas play the Hydro, Glasgow on 4 March 2022

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