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Date September 4
Type Interview
Source The Sunday Herald
Title Glam Slam
Country Scotland, UK
Journalist/Photographer Sylvia Patterson/ Ross Kirton
Pix            
  
Text She’s the cocktail toast of the pop-art glitterati, her new album is all spike heels and feather boas, and she couldn’t care less what people think of her. Alison Goldfrapp talks to Sylvia Patterson about loving the eccentrics, and her views on animalistic imagery and breast tassles

Alison Goldfrapp contemplates her Golden Virginia tobacco pouch and decides she should roll another one. “I can’t believe I’ve just started up again,” she cringes, pounding baccy on to paper. “I’ve given up a million times. For five years. Two years. I think I need hypnotherapy. I’ve had the things stuck in your ear (acupuncture), an absolute f***ing waste of time, as soon as I got out, the first thing I did was have a fag. It really hurt as well. I can give up in really stressful situations, so it’s nothing to do with stress. I dunno what it is. It’s completely psychological!”
Alison Goldfrapp – her real name – is not like other pop stars. She swears like a convict, smokes like a ship-builder and couldn’t care less what you think of her. Rachel Stevens, who’s been attempting to pilfer the Goldfrapp sound for years, is not like this one bit.

Goldfrapp, a bewitching, theatrical, electro-pop duo from London, are not like other pop groups; two fame-indifferent enigmas who’ve turned down a seat on Lorraine Kelly’s couch because the thought, says Alison, “scared the life out of me, bit early in the morning for the onslaught of that very happy face”. So they remain just the way they always have been: mainstream-unrecognisable.

The other creative half, electronic magician Will Gregory, is permanently (photographically) invisible. Alison, meanwhile, is a 21st-century Marlene Dietrich in her high-glam photos but, in real life, is an unimposing 5'2" tiddler in no make-up whatsoever. Today, we’re panting for breath in a London café (it’s “too hot” to sit outside), drinking water in 30C heat.

She’s less dominatrix vixen, more student in search of Oxfam, in scuffy jeans, scuffy brown T-shirt, and huge brown plastic Jackie O sunglasses. Even her hair is unrecognisable. Her explosive, corkscrew natural curls sprouting free from a falling-down ponytail. Goldfrapp, it is no surprise to learn, do not employ a stylist.

“Ah,” corrects Alison, in her engaging, forthright, no-nonsense way, “I do work with a stylist these days, but she works for me, I like to think. So I’ll say, ‘I want to wear a peacock’s tail on my arse, can you find someone who can make it for me?’”

If you have seen an ad campaign, everywhere, of a beguiling woman wearing a peacock’s tail on her arse, that’s The Look of Alison Goldfrapp …

It’s a join-the-dots, brand-u-like world out there and Goldfrapp have nothing to do with it. They are believers in old-school art-pop and fantastical mystique, who have created, as all the best groups do, a personal “alternative reality”. Emerging in 2000 with the ambient atmospherics of debut album Felt Mountain (Mercury-nominated that year), they discovered, in 2003, their electro-glam purpose, with Black Cherry (also Mercury-nominated), an arch, pulsing, electronic opus which saw Alison deemed by tastemakers, The Most Fashionable Woman In London. Alison, at the time, rented a flat in unfashionable Finsbury Park which didn’t have a washing machine, lived mostly out of her on-the-road suitcase and was prone to not washing her hair, for five days.

“If I’m the most fashionable woman in London,” she said at the time, “why aren’t I all over the papers and why don’t I get on the front pages of magazines? That means it’s only a matter of time, a matter of weeks, in fact, before I’ll be extremely unfashionable. If I was a lot younger maybe I’d get a lot more upset about it. But I’m not. I’m an old crony.”

Alison is, officially, in her “late 30s” and has been since 2003. Since then, she’s become even more fashionable, the cocktail toast of the pop-art glitterati. Goldfrapp’s third album, Supernature, is the sort of album Madonna would love to make – a lip-glossed, adrenalised, electronic thriller, all spike heels, feather boas and thundering, perverted robotics. It’s also Blue Nile dreamy and T Rex funny. Last single, Ooh La La, was their biggest hit (number four), the one which sounds like Marc Bolan pouting on a transvestite’s podium, the kaleidoscopic video for which Alison describes as, “Roxy Music, Gary Glitter, old Top Of The Pops, fantasy, wanton girl goes wrong, broken heart and f***k off”. Forthcoming single, Number 1, is the cool-pop morning-after antidote, echoing the ghost of Gary Numan.

“I like,” avers Alison, with considerable understatement, “being part of the English eccentrics.”

Alison Goldfrapp likes to call herself “a Londoner” and her accent can veer – bleedin’ ’ell! – to a winning Eliza Doolittle. Born and brought up in surrounding Hampshire, she’s the youngest of six kids to opera-loving bohemians, who found school “miserable”, a dyslexic with a gifted, top-end soprano who left school at 16 for a life of restless, chaotic wandering. She looks down at the tattoo on her left middle-finger and cringes once again. “A doodle, aged 13,” she observes, “with a bottle of ink and a needle. “It’s a Pagan-esque fork, all crudely drawn arrows which face outwards to the world.

“Maybe it does mean something but I don’t know what it is,” she insists, sipping some water. “I hated it for years and used to hide it with big rings but then I thought, ‘I quite like it now, it is part of me, it did mean something’. Being 13 is a significant time. Maybe some weird rite-of-passage to womanhood. I think I quite liked the pain as well. I think it’s influenced by all the Borstal boys I used to hang around with. They had love and hate tattoos. Growing up in the country, you get bloody loads of pikeys, the extremes, the middle-upper class and the real rough side. I hated it actually.”

A creative outsider, Alison always felt she’d do “something”, but never knew what, spending the Eighties in emotional bedlam.

“I don’t have any fond memories of the Eighties at all,” decides Alison, “I hated the Eighties and everything in my life, it was bollocks. Design, music, fashion … all rubbish, and I remember thinking, ‘this is not the era for me’. It was so grim it hurt me in every way. And I spent quite a lot of that time out of my face. Everyone was doing ‘e’. Wasted many days and weeks and years.”

In her early 20s, Alison was a drugs enthusiast living through mid-Eighties narcotic oblivion where cocaine (and soon, ecstasy) were staples of musical London. An experimental, demo-making singer, she lived in squats, worked as a university canteen worker and as a sales assistant in Agent Provocateur.

“Drugs, ultimately,” she notes wearily, “make you lose your sense of yourself. It’s so depressing. I spent years doing music, getting stoned going, ‘this is great’, listening to it a billion times and next day you’d only done two minutes’ work and it was rubbish. But at least I was smiling. Everything else, forget it. I stopped smoking dope as well. I can’t do it, it sends me mental. People say, ‘oh, chill out with a spliff …’ Chill out? It doesn’t make me chill out, it makes my brain go on hyper.”

London was so bad, Alison moved to Belgium where her vocal talents secured her work with a French avant-garde modern ballet dancer. The pair toured throughout Europe, and along the way, Alison discovered Serge Gainsborough, Seventies Polish disco and the Weimar Republic cabaret of the Thirties.

“She was very French,” chortles Alison, of her employer, “she was very, ‘yew stupid young English gerrrl, stand up straight for goodness sake! She introduced me to be loads of music, and sampling. She really opened my eyes. I was singing complete and utter mumbo jumbo, singing along to samples, backwards vocals, operatic things, probably much more interesting for me than the people listening to it …”

Does she know, you wonder, the official range of that exceptional voice?

“I really don’t know,” she insists, “I do have effects as well, which pitch it up, but I’ve always had a good range. But I do believe it’s kind of in your head as well. If you wanna do it, you can do it.”

Rubbish.

“Okay. Heheheh. That’s what Will says to me as well. ‘Shurrup!’”

Back in London, rejuvenated, Alison finally took up a place at art school, a place of freedom she “absolutely loved”. Her degree show involved peep-show theatrics and milking a live cow, “to do with nature and technology”. She is, she notes sagely, “definitely a late developer”. Session-singing escalated, becoming renowned through spells with British dance music boffins Orbital and terror-pop renegade Tricky before meeting Gregory in 1999.

“We were very thorough about where we wanted to go,” remembers Alison. “I’d been in so many situations, especially with dance music where it was more about wearing some f***king cool jacket. These people who were supposedly quite radical and cutting-edge, I actually found to be incredibly safe. It was all about what kind of music you should be doing. Or, ‘you can’t put strings in there because they’re far too sentimental and romantic’. All these ‘can’ts’ because it wasn’t cool. Which was definitely a Nineties thing.”

In 2005 the best bands in the world are left-field art-pop constructs; Goldfrapp, Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, White Stripes. Bands that create everything they do themselves with an obsessive, singular vision: music, art-work, visuals, stage-show, clothes, type-face, everything. “High concept,” as Alison notes, “low budget.” In Goldfrapp’s case, she adds, they might be too autonomous. “An entourage certainly is handy,” she decides. “I spent all last year buying clothes for the band and the dancers. I must say, I don’t wanna do that any more. So I look forward to that one!" No wonder.

Clothes for the band and the dancers, in Goldfrapp’s reality, mean stags’ heads, horses’ heads and burlesque theatre costumes. They are true pioneers of the show-girl cabaret which dominates mainstream culture today. “I just love animalistic imagery,” says Alison, “the metaphorical mystery, the unexplainable sensuality. Very glamorous.” They have also performed, for years, with a woman in breast tassels called Immodesty Blaize.

“Not sure if she’ll be on this new tour,” says Alison, “I always find it slightly frustrating not being able to see what she does when she stands behind me. It sort of freaks me out. I have this picture in my mind of these tits going round and round and round and what the hell does that look like?”

Stags’ heads, too, now regularly appear on MTV. Time, perhaps, for the innovators to move on? “Animalistic imagery is quite a common theme now,” nods Alison, “and I’m getting a bit bored of antlers anyway. My mum keeps buying me antlers. She’s great. She’s quite old, my mum, and she bought me this great tea tray the other day which was really quite scary. It had real butterflies trapped under glass. So it’s all her fault. She used to buy me mad things when I was a kid that nobody else would be seen dead in. Like a green fake fur coat. Always bought me mental things and she still does, bless ’er.”

When Alison lived in Finsbury Park, there were pairs of antlers hanging all over her walls. For reasons we’ll never understand, this is where she’d hang what she calls her “undies”. If she’s some sort of sexual deviant, as many men wish her to be, she’s also formidably private. The only sexual daydream she mentions today being: “dirty bass lines, that’s sex. It’s such a physical thing. Bass players and drummers for me, I think, that’s the fantasy.”

On stage, she wears a strap-on vibrator, worn backwards, her crafty way of affixing a horses tail, which she’ll swish as part of her performance. No more, she insists, than “my homage to Iggy Pop. Which shows how old I am.” Last year, she fell over on stage in a gay-indie club called Popstarz. “I got my horses tail caught in my stiletto and went flying,” she recalls, “very unglamorously, with a horse’s tail hanging between my legs, literally.” We start talking, for no reason, about swinging.

“I saw this programme about swinging,” muses Alison, “where all these couples check each other out on the internet and then they go and meet in The Little Chef. I was thinking, ‘can you imagine? Sitting in The Little Chef, which is revolting, waiting for your potential partner …’ And I can’t think of anything more depressing. That is Britain at it’s grimmest. A lot more goes on than we even think.”

Alison, in the end, is a genuine curiosity and natural-born eccentric. A believer in the sexually aloof, she deems the thongs-out robo-babes on MTV, “mind-numbing rubbish, video after video, where’s the intrigue?” She’s the sort of sexualised frontwoman more likely to put layers of provocative clothing on, than peel them off.

“Well, once you get ’em out,” she notes, “you’ve got nowhere else to go, that’s my theory. Once you’ve got that arse out, where d’you go from there?”

She has a reputation, too, as the world’s most icy interviewee and can be, she admits, “spiky and cold”. In truth she loathes interviews and finds many journalists “twats”. An incident involving a photographer follows her around, from a performance in Goldfrapp’s ambient days. She re-enacts the scene.

“The stage,” she explains, “was this high (she indicates one foot from the ground) . The audience were sitting on the floor and along comes this bloke standing up with this flash camera and I found it really embarrassing, he was blocking everyone’s view and it seemed really vain an’ ’orrible. I said, ‘stop’, and he didn’t of course. I said ‘f***king stop!’ And of course, he just revelled in it and I fell for it and lurched forward, ‘f***k off!’ (middle finger aloft) and he was, ‘ckckckckkc!’ (mimics a thousand clicks). He was being a right f***king prick, basically. So a photo exists somewhere of me like that and it’ll come out one day, he’s probably been waiting. But I didn’t deck him and he deserved it. I’m just not very good at covering things up. If I’m in a bad mood, I’m in a bad mood. If I try not to show it, that’s when I come across as spiky . I shut myself down and can come across as cold. Can’t speak, won’t speak sort of thing. Some weird self-protection.”

In 2003, through the promotion of Black Cherry, Alison agreed to 14 interviews a day.

“And that does send me mental,” she notes. “I can’t do it. It’s incredibly boring talking about yourself all day. It’s like amateur therapy and it’s not good for you. I got quite upset and tearful. I know it’s part of the job and these things help, in the cog, in the wheel… but it’s hard to lie, if you’re like me.

Alison and Will now live and work in pastoral Bath, near Bristol, rural neighbours who make their sonic soundscapes in a studio-cottage full of “chintzy sofas, synthesizers and amplifiers next to Seventies Hoovers”. Outside, she explains, there’s horses everywhere and neighbours mowing the lawn. “So in between all the synthesizers on the album, you can probably hear a few lawnmowers and birds tweeting. You don’t get fashion round there, which is a good thing. Everything’s way out of fashion.” So out of fashion, in fact, it’s back in again.

In 2004 Goldfrapp made their first ever Glastonbury appearance, performing just after Scots rockers Franz Ferdinand.

“Franz Ferdinand all bowed to me before I walked on stage,” says Alison, “which I though was very sweet. And pretty weird, because they were the It band at the time.” Takes one, as they say, to know one. If Alison Goldfrapp is still fairly anonymous, her surname is more famous than she is, a name remarked upon when she whips out her credit card. You’ve the same name, they’ll say, as that fabulous, funny new pop band.

“I met a very famous person a couple of years ago, I won’t say his name,” she twinkles, enigmatically, “and he said to me, ‘why has it taken you so long? What have you been doing all this time?’ Well, I haven’t been in the public eye, but my life has all been part of what I’m doing. I think it takes a long time to form what it is and how you’re gonna do it. And I’ve never compromised.”

She rolls the last of her snouts.

“And this person couldn’t quite understand that,” she chortles. “They were definitely younger, yes. English, yes. I didn’t fancy him, no, otherwise I might’ve gone back in the hotel room with him. I could’ve, but I didn’t. He told me he was very rich and he was definitely flaunting it. I said, ‘well, I’m very rich too’. Which was a complete lie.”

Robbie Williams?

“I shall say no more.”

 
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