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Date Feb 26
Type Interview
Source Times
Title Alison Goldfrapp's shakeup at the disco
Country UK
Journalist/Photographer Craig McLean
Text Alison Goldfrapp talks new musical directions and wonders why people find her coming out as a 'midlife lesbian' surprising

Ten years into the life of her band, Alison Goldfrapp didn’t expect to cause so much fuss. But there she was, prominent in the Sunday papers at the end of last year. “Suddenly your life is seen in a completely different context,” she muses. “I’m not very comfortable with that sort of thing, because I don’t like to court any attention other than if it’s really to do with the music.”

The new “fame” of the singer who lends her name to Goldfrapp? As a “midlife lesbian”. In a story published in late December Goldfrapp was outed as being in a relationship with the film editor Lisa Gunning. Gunning worked on Nowhere Boy, the John Lennon biopic, for which Goldfrapp — the band — collaborated on the musical score, recorded with a 35-piece string section at Abbey Road.

“I don’t know why people would find it surprising,” Goldfrapp said later. “Everything we’ve ever done — the music, the looks, the shows — has all been quite ambiguous and undefinable, and that’s how I am. I don’t like to be defined by my sexuality, which swings wherever I like to swing. I’ve had lovely, long relationships with men as well. I just happen to be in a relationship with a lady at the moment. I don’t like to be pigeonholed in my life or my music either. The best policy seems to be to go with what feels right, so I do.”

Goldfrapp cackles about “the mechanics” of being outed. “The mechanics! I don’t think you wanna know about the mechanics,” she says with “oo-er missus” relish. Judging from her guffaws we have, it seems, wandered into a scene from Carry On Being a Midlife Lesbian. “Oh, those mechanics. Well, that was a bit of a shocker actually, because obviously I didn’t know anything about it all. A friend texted me: ‘Oh, there’s a really nice picture of you and Lisa in this magazine.’ I was like: ‘What picture? Where? Really? Hold on a minute . . .’

“And there was a picture, a nice big one. Yeah,” she sniffs, “we didn’t know anything about that. In fact the newspaper was a little bit naughty — they didn’t ask anybody, and they didn’t tell anyone either.”

How did it know? “I really don’t know,” she says with a relaxed shrug.

The revelation added another layer of intrigue to the Goldfrapp phenomenon. Goldfrapp the duo was formed in 1999 with Alison and the synth and keyboard wizard Will Gregory. The two couldn’t be more different: Gregory, 40, is tall, hairy and wears a rucksack as if he’s just stepped off the 8.43 from Bath (he lives near Chippenham). He never joins Alison on stage, preferring to stand by the mixing desk, cocking an eager ear to the sound quality; in fact, he rarely joins her on tour either. She is the on-stage exhibitionist and blows in today in fancy coat, blonde ringlets and Ray-Bans. The coat comes off, but the shades do not. For a brilliant on-stage exhibitionist, in conversation she is terribly reticent. Goldfrapp doesn’t like to give too much away, even how old she is (an educated guess puts her age at somewhere around 43).

Together, they’re fantastic and fantastical electro-pop innovators whose irresistible singles (Strict Machine, Ooh La La, Ride a White Horse) and stirring, sexually charged artwork and stage presentations (European fairytale lore with a glam-fetish twist) evoke everyone from Kate Bush to Eurythmics, Hazel O’Connor to Madonna. Their ultra-disco fifth album Head First is about to be released.

Gregory’s mum is not, it seems, fully up to speed with the whys and wherefores of her son’s day job. “She says to me: ‘That’s five albums now — aren’t you tired of it yet?’ ”

“At least she knows what you bloody do!” his musical partner harrumphs. “ ‘Working? What’s that? What are you doing then?’ ” she says, adopting the high-pitched, slightly nagging voice of the querulous mother. But is Pat Goldfrapp still confused as to what exactly the youngest of her six children does for a living, given the mounting success of the fistful of albums that Goldfrapp have released?

“Well, my mum’s quite old actually. Bless her. She’s obviously pleased for me, and really proud. But I think it’s quite hard for her to comprehend what it is I’m doing. She came to the Albert Hall last year. So did my auntie, who said she thought the dancers were very distasteful, and that they didn’t have to stoop that low to entertain people, ha ha!

“My mum’s got a real problem with the pagan thing,” she says of the self-designed, William-Blake-meets-Wicker Man visuals in their stage shows. “She thinks that’s very anti-Christian as well. Anyway, God,” she sighs, “I shouldn’t be saying all this. The Times is the sort of paper that she reads.”

The woman renowned for “playing” a Theremin onstage with her groin and sticking horses’ heads on her dancers admits that her mum’s puzzlement infects her too. “I dunno, actually — why am I doing that?”

Gregory likes living in the peace of the countryside. Goldfrapp, who moved back to London two years ago (she was bored with living in the West Country and missed her friends), is a vampy dominatrix onstage but can be hilariously grumpy off it.

As a teenager in Hampshire — she was ten years younger than her nearest sibling — she was the archetypal convent girl gone bad. A self-inflicted tattoo on her left forefinger (it’s a sort of trident) is a remnant of her wayward time at a comprehensive after she failed the exams for the convent’s senior school. She moved to London, lived in squats, went to art college and began singing with the rave-era outfit Orbital and Tricky.

Gregory, meanwhile, was a classically trained musician who performed regularly with the composer Michael Nyman — he played oboe on Nyman’s soundtrack to Peter Greenaway’s 1989 film The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. Later, while living in Bristol he became involved with Portishead. Then a mutual friend introduced him to Goldfrapp. What were their first impressions of each other?

“I was a stroppy bitch,” she recalls. “She was absolutely punctual,” he says, “and in my world, which was slightly dazed and confused, that was a huge point. I was very impressed. This girl meant business.”

Gregory, she says approvingly, “was slightly bumbling ... which was good because everyone I’d worked with was totally cool. You had to be cool. And Will was not cool. I thought that was a really good thing. There weren’t any of the rules that I was so, so bored with.”

Head First, Goldfrapp’s big, shiny Eighties stadium disco of a new album, is the follow-up to Seventh Tree, from 2008. That album added folky, pastoral flavours to the Goldfrapp mix, and was itself the successor to the throbbing electro-pop of Supernature in 2005. The new album is short (nine songs), sharp and to the point. It’s unabashedly retro, evoking the zooming synths of Van Halen and Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice theme, and proudly poppy. Unsurprisingly, the Italians and Germans love it.

“We wanted to make a direct and euphoric sound,” Goldfrapp says. “It’s very much about the melodies and the celebratory feel to the songs. Atmosphere-wise and sentiment-wise, they’re kind of ... fun.”

Goldfrapp have consistently been ahead of the musical curve. Madonna was spotted taking a copy of Supernature into her Pilates class. After talking about the band in her music and her interviews, she was dubbed Oldfrapp. Since the release of Seventh Tree the likes of La Roux and Little Boots have come along with their own take on Eighties pop. Are Goldrapp now copying the copyists?

Goldfrapp concedes that, yes, absolutely, she’s been listening to “those big boosh sounds” of Eighties-friendly drums. “And also our keyboard sounds are quite fat, lead melodies, which was definitely a thing of that era. So yeah, you can’t deny that. But I think our influences have come from all kinds of places and eras, and maybe some are more obvious than others. Somebody asked me if we’d been influenced by the New Romantics. Which I really don’t see — that coldness . . .

“We were trying to make something that had a much warmer sound to it. The La Rouxs and the Little Boots are referencing something completely different.”

Finally, returning to the notall-that-hot-really subject of her sexuality, Goldfrapp shrugs. “It’s not like I’ve been hiding it. But I haven’t been going round, you know ... I guess it was probably gonna happen, but I didn’t think anyone would be interested enough to put in such a large picture [of us]. I’m glad it was a nice picture, though. That’s what I was more concerned about. I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my dungarees and Doc Martens that day . . .”

 
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