Marc Almond, singer and songwriter with Soft Cell and now a major solo artist, chats with Kevin Cooper about his love for Northern Soul, being a huge Billy Fury fan, his latest album Shadows And Reflections and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

Marc Almond is an English singer-songwriter and musician who first began performing and recording in the 80s electro new wave group Soft Cell; a duo he formed with David Ball who he met at Leeds Polytechnic. They had massive hits with Tainted Love, Bedsitter, and Say Hello Wave Goodbye, before they disbanded in 1984.

Almond has also had a diverse career as a solo artist. His collaborations include a duet with the late Gene Pitney on the 1989 UK number one single Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart. In all, as a solo artist and with Soft Cell he has sold over 30 million records.

Almond briefly reunited with Ball in 2001 when they released their first new album in eighteen years, Cruelty Without Beauty. This reunion was short lived when in 2004 Almond was seriously injured in a motorbike accident near St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He was in a coma for several weeks and unfortunately his recovery was hampered by his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As he recuperated he released an album of cover songs, Stardom Road, in 2007 and in 2008 he toured throughout the UK with Jools Holland.

In 2016 Almond signed his first major label deal for twenty years, signing a two album deal with BMG Management. The first of these albums, Shadows And Reflections will be released later this month.

Having just returned from holiday in New York, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Marc how are you?

I’m fine Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not a problem it’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you today?

Life is absolutely great at the moment. I have just returned from holiday so I am feeling all energised, refreshed and raring to go although I have to say that I am missing the holiday (laughter). I have got a very busy autumn coming up so I have got to get myself ready for that. The holiday was great but it is always the same whenever you come back home. I’m sure that you know what I mean (laughter). The good thing was that I finally found out about the daytime flight from New York to the UK so because I was not flying overnight I don’t have the jetlag that I would have had if I had taken the overnight flight. Having said all of that I had a brilliant time and now feel energised for the autumn.

You and I have something in common.

Do we, what would that be?

I am a lover and collector of Northern Soul.

Really that’s amazing. However, I have to be honest with you and tell you that unfortunately I never actually managed to get myself to Wigan Casino. It was in fact David (Ball) who was the big Casino goer. I managed to go to a lot of other places in and around that area, Bury, Lancashire and Preston to name a few. In actual fact it was David who introduced me to Northern Soul and I found that I did like a lot of Northern Soul records. I was aware of Northern Soul and I liked a lot of Northern Soul but David introduced me to a lot of records that I had previously never heard, including Tainted Love. Well that’s good to know that we have something in common Kevin.

I could chat with you about Northern Soul all day but I suppose that we really should talk a little about your new studio album Shadows And Reflections hadn’t we?

Yes please, that would be nice (laughter).

Well I have to tell you that I have been playing it for the past few days now and I absolutely love it.

That’s great, thank you, thank you very much. I’m really pleased with the album.

What was it like working with Mike Stevens?

I have to say that it was great working with Mike who as you know has previously worked with the likes of Take That, ELO, Annie Lennox, and people like that. I really did want to work with a pop arranger because although I wanted to make an album of sixties songs, I didn’t want it to sound overly retro. I wanted the album to have a modern production sound and Mike is a great arranger. He knows just how to arrange those songs from the sixties in a pop, rock and classical kind of way all at the same time. He also knows just how to work with an orchestra brilliantly so for me it was fantastic working with him.

The album title, Shadows And Reflections; just whom or what are they shadows and reflections of?

I’m sorry to disappoint but there are no shadows or reflections of anyone or anything in particular. I called the album Shadows And Reflections simply because it is kind of a reflective album really. Whenever I record an album I make a theme for them and this one had a theme of torch songs, but not old style torch songs as you would imagine them with lots of piano. It’s more a collection of sixties torch songs all about lost love, looking back upon loves that you have lost and being alone. It has that kind of theme to it.

Where did the title come from?

Whilst I was looking into songs to record for the album I came across a song by a sixties group who were called The Action and who were an R&B kind of pop band. They had recorded a song called Shadows And Reflections, although it wasn’t the original version of the song because one had been recorded before theirs. I just thought that it would make a great title for the album. The song seemed to reflect those haunted moments of being alone in your apartment at night when you think about your past loves, together with the things that you have lost and those feelings of being alone for a moment. I wanted the album to echo that and the feeling of the songs that I chose for the album really do echo those feelings.

Whilst the album is predominately a covers album there are in fact two original songs on there. Tell me about those?

(Laughter) I am so pleased that you have picked up on that fact. Most people who I have spoken too just think that it is a covers album. However, the last song on the album is called No One To Say Good Night To which is an original song that I co-wrote with John Harle and it is really the thematic song of the whole album; being alone in an apartment, surrounded by beautiful things but there is no one to say good night to. That was the whole theme of the album and I think that song is testimony to that.

And what about Embers?

(Laughter) I have a contract with BMG to record two albums for them, an album of covers and an album of my original material. They asked me if I would make the covers album first but informed me that I could put two new original songs on the album. As we have already discussed, one of them was No One To Say Good Night To which I co-wrote with John Harle and the other is Embers which I co-wrote with a songwriter who I have worked with quite a lot over the years, Chris Braide who lives and works out of Los Angeles. We wanted to get that real Walker Brothers feel to that sound, a big chorus together with a big sweeping string sound and everything. We wanted that song to fit into this whole sixties thematic feel of the album.

I have to be honest with you and tell you that I originally thought that Embers was one of the covers on the album and not a new song.

Really, I am so pleased that you have said that. I am really glad that you thought that it was a cover song because that means that it must have fit in with the theme of the album, so I am really pleased about that.

You would never know that it is a new song and I have to say that in my opinion it fits in with the rest of the album tremendously.

Thank you, we hoped that it would. I love all of those old songs recorded by The Walker Brothers and I love all of those big vocal songs and that is what I wanted to go for with this album, big vocal songs that had a lot of drama in them. I wanted them all to be very dramatic songs that worked well with an orchestra.

You mention an orchestra, will you be joined by an orchestra on the forthcoming tour?

(Laughter) I think that I may have already given far too much away but yes, I will be being joined by an orchestra when I get out on the road later this year. When I am touring the UK this September I will be taking a full band together with an orchestra out with me together with an ensemble of musicians and singers. Obviously they will be playing new songs from the album which work well with an orchestra but we have also gone back through my repertoire of work specifically to find songs that would work well with an orchestral arrangement.

Who had the final say as to what went onto the album and what missed the cut?

When I began thinking about this album seriously I came up with a list of songs that was far too long. I sat down with the A&R man at BMG and whenever I said “I would really like to do this one” it was him who signed them off really. He chose the songs that he thought would work well on a covers compilation album. For me it was nice to have that kind of feedback for a while because I haven’t been signed to a major record label since the mid-nineties. I have found myself on smaller labels or subsidiary labels and so I haven’t been in a position to do exactly what I wanted. However, BMG have now given me a great deal which allows me to do exactly what I want to do.

They do not control me. However, it was so nice to have an A&R man who was happy to sit with me and also help me to make those decisions. I have to own up and tell you that I am very indecisive and would have picked around twenty songs when I only need to pick ten or twelve (laughter). He was great in helping me do that and between us I feel that we have found a really good balance within the songs in that they work pretty well together.

Are there any that didn’t make their way onto the album that you now wish had made it?

There were a couple of obscure sixties songs that didn’t make it onto the album simply because I tried to choose all British sixties music. I like lots of different sixties music but I wanted the album to have a really good British feel to it. I kept it as left field as I could whilst trying to be as commercial and middle ground as I could (laughter). I really did want to make a commercial album. But back to your question, yes there were a few songs that missed out on being on the album but I can’t tell you what they were because I might do those on Shadows And Reflections Two (laughter). I have to keep my song choices to myself because if I tell you what they are there may just be someone out there who will steal them from me (laughter).

I hear that you had a lot of fun making the album. Would you agree with that?

(Laughter) who have you been talking to? I must say yes I did, I had great fun making this album. For me it is a real treat whenever I get to work with an orchestra and as I have mentioned working with Mike was fantastic and we always had a lot of laughs in the studio. Mike is a great vocal producer as well and he always manages to get a good vocal performance out of me. I think that whenever you make an album, if it is not fun to make then it simply is not worth making. I have made too many records in the past that have been a laborious thing to do, a hard thing to do and have not always been a fun experience. But if you are lucky to get that fun experience in the studio when you are making an album then believe me, it is a real joy.

I love what you have done with The Shadow Of Your Smile which we know has been recorded by some of the greats in the past, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Shirley Bassey, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra to name a few. Which is your favourite?

(Laughter) Scott Walker’s actually (laughter). Don’t get me wrong I like all of those versions that you have mentioned and I just love the song, it is just such an amazing song. That particular track is the nearest on the album that you could call a standard. It is a standard because so many big artists have both sung and recorded it. When I first sat down to discuss making this album the obvious thing was for me to record standards so I thought about that and whilst it would most probably have been successful for me to do that BMG didn’t want me to do that, they wanted me to be a little more imaginative.

But the only song that is a standard is The Shadow Of Your Smile which I performed last year with the Leeds College Of Music. We did that live in a concert that we were performing and I just thought ‘I have to keep that song on the album because it is such a great track’. However, in answer to your question the version which I like the most and the one upon which I based my version on is the Scott Walker version.

I have to say that my favourite track on the album at this moment in time is I’m Lost Without You, the old Billy Fury track.

I am a massive Billy Fury fan; I love Billy Fury and I think that song is great. I have performed I’m Lost Without You on a couple of my shows and my fans have just gone crazy about it. It’s just a great song which I thought was really made for me. Billy sings it just amazingly and it is just so hard for anyone to top Billy Fury but I do my best. With all of the songs on the album I have not changed the arrangements an awful lot from the originals because that it what I liked about the originals. But at the same time I thought that whenever I do cover songs I like to introduce my audience to the artists that sang those songs. So for me if it helps that my fans go away and listen to the music of Billy Fury then that is fantastic. For me there is nobody like Billy Fury.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

To be perfectly honest with you I like How Can I Be Sure which was originally Mike Stevens’s suggestion. It wasn’t on my original list but Mike said “you have got to listen to this song and you have got to record it”. I can remember my sister having the song by David Cassidy when I was young and I did like it. However, I then heard it being sung by The Young Rascals and I had also forgotten that Dusty (Springfield) had recorded it too. Mike played it for me and I thought ‘this is really great’ and it kept going round and round in my head and so I made a demo of it. It was me then saying to Mike “we have got to do this on the album” (laughter). I also like From The Underworld which was originally recorded by The Herd together with I’m Lost Without You the Billy Fury track that we have previously mentioned.

I have to ask you do you still get excited about being out on the road touring?

Yes I do, I still really do enjoy touring a lot. I still feel energised by doing a tour. However, I always feel a sense of panic together with a little stage fright whenever it is leading up to a tour, probably more now than I used to. I don’t know why but it is probably because I am a little older and I often think ‘I have got a hell of a lot of songs to learn’. I wish that I had a bit more energy than I used to have but I still feel energised by doing tours, and I really do love to play live. I prefer the live tours much more than I do the time spent in the studio. Live on stage is where my audience appreciates me and I appreciate the feedback that I get from them.

I will be photographing and reviewing your show here at The Royal Concert Hall on Tuesday 31st October. What can we expect?

It is going to be great. I will have a big ensemble of musicians with me this time. It is what I can only describe as being a very special show. Naturally the show will heavily feature the new album but there will also be songs from my repertoire as well. There will also be a few fans favourites in there as well.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh do you know what, you have put me right on the spot with that question (laughter). I was recently listening to Lana Del Rey’s latest album when I was over in America. It’s called Lust For Life and there are some really sad songs on there about America. There was all of the Donald Trump stuff being shown on the TV and as I was listening to the album I didn’t actually cry but the TV and the music together really did move me. The track was called When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing. Another track from the album which moved me is called Beautiful People Beautiful Problems which features Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac. It was the perfect soundtrack for me being in America.

Marc on that note thank you once again for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you so much, it’s been good to talk to you Kevin and I will see you in Nottingham.