Music interview: Lisa Stansfield

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Lisa Stansfield’s new album, Seven, is her first in ten years, but she has been keeping herself busy, as she explains to Duncan Seaman.

Singer Lisa Stansfield is reflecting on the music that she grew up with and how it shaped her own multi-million selling career.

From her mother she gained a lasting fondness for Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee and Diana Ross. “My mum used to listen to that stuff all the time,” the 47-year-old says in her distinctive Lancastrian tones deepened by a three-packets-a-day smoking habit which she quit three years ago. “I suppose it was innate – I would have been listening to that in her tummy. I came out singing it. Those are your teachers, all those people. 

“It was a combination of country music and Motown and soul music. They come from a similar place anyway,” she adds. “They all tell very emotional stories. It’s more about emotion than your brain.”

Her own approach to singing and songwriting – that peaked with the worldwide hits All Around The World and All Woman – has much in common with her early idols.

“I love telling stories. Vocally I adopted the soul element of the music. Lyrically a lot of the time I’m a bit country-fied – I do like to tell a tear-jerking story. It’s really corny but I think there’s a line – if you mess yourself up you mess everything up, I’m just on the border of it.” 

Stansfield’s new album, Seven, is her first in a decade. She never purposefully decided to take such a long break from releasing records, she explains; it simply happened.

“I don’t think anything I do is very conscious – a lot of the time it isn’t anyway,” she says.

“I just think you need to go with it. I didn’t feel there was anything there for me at all. If I made the effort to make an album and released it at the wrong time, I would just be throwing it in the rubbish bin. I don’t fit into a particular genre. So I waited and waited.

“I thought if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t I will just listen to my own music in my own home. Now I’ve put my foot in the door I’m not taking it out as yet. You’ll have to put up with me for a bit.”

Contrary to some people’s perception that “I was sitting in bubble bath drinking Champagne” for the past ten years, Stansfield says she actually spent much of the time song writing and acting, which, she says, she “loved”. Among her credits were an episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple, with Geraldine McEwan, and the film The Edge of Love, starring Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller.

One role she turned down, however, was the pub manager of the Rovers Return in Coronation Street. She didn’t want the three-year commitment, she explains.

“When you do something like that whatever else you do is very limited. There are a few actors who work on the show who are allowed to do other things but they’re not allowed to mention doing them. I don’t know why they are so weird about it.”

Seven is notable for its rich string and brass arrangements arrangements. She admits she wanted to push the boat out on this record.

“I suppose it was the nature of the beast,” she says. “When you are writing songs it’s whatever lends itself to that song. We were not going to be polite about that kind of thing – no way at all. If you are going to do it, just do it. Don’t do anything half-baked.”

Although the songs were written in New York and Ireland, where Stansfield lived with her husband and co-writer Ian Devaney for 14 years, 70 per cent of the album was recorded in Rochdale, her home town. She moved back to the North West of England after her mother died.

She says of her homecoming: “Me and my husband Ian travelled for so long, where we are together that’s our home. I didn’t particularly miss anywhere. The only time you miss something is when you get back and you realise you missed it.”

True to her storytelling instincts, the songs of Seven have a common thread. “It’s just about one woman. She goes on an emotional journey. She falls in love and then the guy she has fallen in love with turns out to be a complete b******. She puts all of her heart into this and he’s not very nice to her, really, so she gets her revenge.

“Then she can’t trust anyone after that. Eventually she does learn to trust again and to love again. I think that’s a very beautiful thing for a lot of people to listen to. A lot of people are emotionally scarred in that sense but when you listen to music it’s therapy, in a way. If you can identify with certain music it helps you trust yourself and other people and you can understand.”

Projecting into a character evidently interests Stansfield more than writing about her own life. “I love my relationship with Ian but I don’t want to talk about it,” she says. “It’s a 26-year-old relationship. It’s lovely but I would not imagine anyone else could get off on it. We can – I don’t think anyone else could.”

Later this year will come the release of the film Northern Soul, about the 1970s dancehall phenomenon. “I don’t sing it, I play the mum,” she reveals. “I scream and shout and cry, I’m like a nagging mum, but there’s a nice side to me.”

Stansfield was too young to have gone to nightclubs such as the Blackpool Mecca and the Wigan Casino at their height, but she says: “I was heavily influenced by it. When I was 12 or 13 I lived in a town called Harewood, it’s next to Rochdale.

“It was funny, they used to play Northern Soul all the time. I had my first kiss to Northern Soul music – it was Needle in a Haystack. I did not enjoy the kiss at all but I enjoyed the record.

“I ran away to the toilets,” she recalls, laughing. “I got used to it after that, it didn’t take long.”

Lisa Stansfield plays at York Barbican on September 12. Seven is out now.