Lisa Stansfield chats ahead of her show at Birmingham Symphony Hall: Fame’s like being on a roller coaster
She’s been around the world – but has never forgotten her roots. Now Lisa Stansfield is back with her seventh studio album and a UK tour. . .
Her accent’s thicker than a doorstop sandwich. Lisa Stansfield may have been All Around The World and mixed with pop music’s hoi polloi, she may have sung to many millions of fans during a remarkable career that’s seen her shift five million records and win Brits and Ivor Novello Awards, but she’s never forgotten her roots.
Few people are more Mancunican, more ‘Rochdale’ than Lisa Stansfield. She doesn’t drop any ‘Eh up, chucks’, into our conversation, but she’s beautifully and brilliantly authentic, astoundingly down-to-earth.
After growing up in Manchester and moving to Rochdale, where she fell in love with the soul music of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Barry White and Marvin Gaye, Lisa became one of the UK’s biggest soul stars.
She enjoyed hits with People Hold On, This Is the Right Time, All Around the World, Live Together, What Did I Do to You?, You Can’t Deny It, Change, All Woman, Time to Make You Mine, Set Your Loving Free, Someday (I’m Coming Back), In All the Right Places, The Real Thing and Never, Never Gonna Give You Up. And her best-selling record, Affection, sold a cool five million copies as it went platinum in the UK, USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Germany and Canada.
Not that you’d know when she starts talking. There are no airs and graces, no hint of ego. She’s forthright and humble. Rather than gaze back at a starry career, her eyes are fixed on the future and what she still might achieve.
She’s on the road with her new album, Deeper, and will headline Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on Tuesday, bringing glitz, drama and emotion to one of Britain’s finest concert halls.
Deeper is classic Lisa Stansfield, with groove, funk, soul and signature vocals. Written by Lisa and her song-writing partner Ian Devaney and produced by Ian and Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove, and with Lisa taking the role of executive producer, it is the iconic soul singer’s eighth studio album.
The Grammy-nominated, multi Brits, Ivor Novello and Silver Clef Award winner enjoyed making it. She found it a great adventure and is presenting it to the big wide world with a sense of pride.
“I must be honest, when I start making a record I never really know how it will turn out. But then it takes on a life of its own and just becomes one big thing.”
Deeper has been released four years after Lisa’s previous record, Seven+, which followed a 10-year hiatus. It was promoted by the singles Can’t Dance, Carry On and So Be It, and a major European tour.
On Deeper, Lisa didn’t work to a deadline. The record was ready when it was finished.
“The whole thing probably took about three years. We’d written a lot of songs and had other ideas so we were in a good place when we started. We’d normally go in with about five ideas and those would lead to about two songs. Then the songs started to connect, they made sense sitting with one another. We kept on in that vein and eventually we found ourselves with an album. It was amazing. Things just took shape.
“As the record grew, we realised what the album was trying to say. In many ways, the record decides what it wants to be – rather than us deciding what we’d like it to be.”
Lisa is constantly writing, jotting down ideas or recording voice notes as she heads around the UK. “I write all the time. I might see another person in the corner of the room and they might be pensive or sad and I write about that. All sorts of things inspire me.”
Lisa is on the road throughout April, playing some of the UK’s biggest concert halls. And she’s happy while in motion, bussing from town to town, observing the vast differences between, say, Scunthorpe and Southend, or Bournemouth and Birmingham.
“I do love it. Things have changed over the years. I didn’t used to like being on the road because I got homesick. But the more you do it the more you get used to it.
“Touring is like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it. So I’m really looking forward to these shows. I’ve been doing it a long time so I don’t get nervous on stage anymore. The thing for me is to take a moment before I step on stage so that I can gather my thoughts. Then when I step on stage, I get this huge shockwave which runs all the way through me. After that, it’s gone and I’m there under the lights.”
Lisa’s career took a while to get going. At the start of the 1980s, she was just another wannabe, a hopeful with a decent voice who had no idea how to make it out of Rochfield. She let her voice do the talking and in 1980 won the Search for a Star singing competition at a local nightclub. A debut single was issued the following year and in 1982 she featured on ITV and signed a recording deal with Polydor Records.
More TV followed in 1983 as Lisa released The Only Way, Listen to Your Heart and I Got a Feeling. At that point, her only thought was to break through. She had no idea – nor any intention – of being around for another 35 years. And yet the timeless nature of her music has allowed her to do just that. While many of her contemporaries are now on the nostalgia circuit, or working for Amazon as delivery drivers, Lisa is still packing out 2,000-seat concert halls. She’s sustained her success and achieved longevity in her career; the hardest trick of all.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she says, with no hint of insincerity. “I’m a lucky cow. I don’t know how it’s happened. I must be doing something right because people want me to stick around. I’ll carry on doing it as long as people want me to. When they’re sick and tired, I’ll quietly go via the back door.”
She’s lived through fame, through a time where gaggles of fans have crowded at stage doors or turned her life on her head by pursuing her for autographs and worse at Tesco. She’s got used to constantly being on the back foot, where fans know who she is but she doesn’t know who they are. And she’s lived through the unpleasantness that is media intrusion, gossip and speculation. She endured a four-month marriage in 1987 but eventually found happiness and stability with Ian Devaney, marrying him in a minimalist ceremony in New York in 1998.
As well as her singing career, she’s also enjoyed an acting career that’s given her the opportunity to express herself in a different way. She played Joan Woodcock in the Nick Mead-directed movie, Swing, also starring Hugo Speer, and recorded songs for the soundtrack. In February 2002, she made her stage debut in The Vagina Monologues at the Arts Theatre in West End of London together with Anita Dobson and Cecilia Noble. And she also played herself in the comedy series Monkey Trousers in mid-2005 before featuring in the drama series Goldplated, playing Trinny Jamieson, a year later.
Other work has followed, including an appearance in another television series, Agatha Christie’s Marple, in which she played Mary Durrant in the episode titled Ordeal by Innocence. In 2007, Lisa joined the cast of The Edge of Love directed by John Maybury. The film starring Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys premiered in June 2008. Lisa played the role of Ruth Williams.
Since then, she’s starred in the Nick Mead-directed documentary Dean Street Shuffle and also received a role in Elaine Constantine’s film Northern Soul.
Her singing career has ebbed and flowed. During the 1980s and 1990s, she didn’t release a single album that didn’t make the top 10. Since the Millennium, only one – 2004’s Seven – has made a sizeable impression on the chart.
She’s sanguine about those swings and roundabouts. Fame is a currency, it goes up and goes down. The trick is to ride those waves and keep on keepin’ on.
“Fame is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you experience things that probably wouldn’t experience in any other walk of life. You do things that other people never experience. And yet, for me, when I’ve been in those situations, they seem quite normal – it’s just what you do, it’s just the way it is.
“So fame is like being on this unbelievable roller coaster where you can really enjoy a certain part of it that’s new and exciting but where things are moving so quickly that you don’t have time to even think about.
“I think fame – or the things that happen – can only really be processed afterwards. It’s only after the event that you can sit down and take stock of what you’ve done and the people you’ve met.”
And how does she feel when she takes the time to do just that?
“Incredible. It’s like looking back on a fairy tale. It all happens so quickly. It’s like putting 20 years worth of living into five years. The travelling and the opportunities that you have are incredible; that’s what I remember most.
“I’m close to my family and I’ve had the opportunity to show my parents a lot of things that I’ve done. I’ve been able to afford to fly my mum and dad everywhere and they’ve enjoyed themselves with me. That’s been brilliant.
“Then I’ve worked with some amazing people and I did the Freddie Mercury tribute at Wembley, which was unbelievable.”
That gig took place in 1992 to raise money for Aids Awareness. It was broadcast to 76 countries and featured a TV audience of up to one billion.
The show opened with a message from the three remaining members of Queen in tribute to Mercury and then featured short sets from such Queen fans as Metallica, Extreme, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses. The second half featured the three remaining Queen members – John Deacon (on bass), Brian May (on guitar) and Roger Taylor (on drums) – along with guest singers and guitarists, including Elton John, Roger Daltrey (of The Who), Tony Iommi (of Black Sabbath), David Bowie, Mick Ronson (of Spiders from Mars), James Hetfield (of Metallica), George Michael, Seal, Paul Young, Annie Lennox, Lisa, Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin), Joe Elliott and Phil Collen (of Def Leppard), Axl Rose and Slash (of Guns N’ Roses), Liza Minnelli, and others.
“I regard myself as a hard-worker and that’s why I’ve done okay. But at Wembley, it was a sharp intake of breath. I think that’s everyone was thinking the same thing. There wasn’t anybody more important than anybody else on that bill and the whole thing was quite scary. I always imagined the organisers worrying about getting all of those singers and performers in one place but there was no ego on that day. Everybody was doing it for Freddie Mercury, Queen and the fans in the audience. They didn’t come to see me or anybody else: they were there for Freddie Mercury and it was a gorgeous day.”
Lisa’s contribution to British soul is undeniable and her unmistakable voice has been a constant presence on the dance floor and airwaves ever since 1989. Her album Seven returned her to the top 20 of the UK album charts and she has high hopes for Deeper, a gorgeous and personal collection of her trademark soul that reminds us why she’s had a string of international top 10 hits. When she takes the stage at Symphony Hall, fans will be expecting a slew of classics and Lisa will be happy to oblige. She never grows tired of playing her favourite tunes – and is grateful the fans still want to hear them.
“I never get bored, it doesn’t matter how many times I sing those songs. You know, you play those songs in front of an audience and they always feel slightly different anyway. I just feel very grateful that people are still there to hear them.”
- Lisa Stansfield plays Birmingham Symphony Hall on Tuesday. To buy tickets visit www.thsh.co.uk