It is nearly 40 years since Soft Cell formed at Leeds Polytechnic. Grace Hammond catches up with Marc Almond ahead of his return to the city
The first flat Marc Almond ever bought was in eighties Soho.
On neon red Brewer Street, overlooking strip clubs, theatres, chain-smoking teenagers and fellow punk Bowie fans. Wide-eyed and fearless, he was drawn to central London on a diet of fifties and sixties films.
Purchasing property is not something one would associate with a budding musician in today’s Britain, let alone London. It’s not a change which has escaped the former Soft Cell singer. Sitting inside the central London fashion house where his management is based, he laments the loss of the city’s rawness.
“I’ve grown disillusioned with London in recent years,” says Almond. “I’ve lived here for quite a long time and at first I loved it. Soho was London for me, the concentrated area right in the centre. I came here dreaming of this world of wheelers and dealers and juke box cafes and sleazy strip clubs and girls standing on street corners and rock ‘n’ roll stars and red lights and neon. But I’ve fallen out of love with it, London’s become a money place, it’s lost its creativity.”
Some re-emerging pop stars don’t always appear as you expect but Almond bucks that particular trend.
His skinny, wiry frame supports a face full of stories and a wide smile. Tattoos creep above the collar of his T-shirt. One, a swallow in flight, makes its way past his Adam’s apple which bounces as he speaks in small, sharp bursts, ready to laugh or crack a joke at any opportunity. His sentences often take unexpected corners or diversions but he offers genuine conversation in an increasing soundbite industry.
Almond never intended
to be a musician. Growing up in Southport, Lancashire, he wanted to be an actor. His stutter, which still raises its head, put a stop to that but he found the impediment would disappear when he introduced music and rhythm.
“I started doing local gigs but I never considered this would be something I would do as a career,” he says. “It seemed too unreachable. I thought I was lucky to be in a band but turning that into a professional musician felt a million miles away.”
But succeed he did. Soft Cell were formed in 1978 after Almond met David Ball at Leeds Polytechnic. Since then, Marc Almond has sold over 30 million records worldwide in a career that has spanned a diverse range of musical styles from the electro of his band Soft Cell to Turkish torch songs to Brazilian Macumba music and Russian folk.
“I grew up listening to songs that had melody, I loved listening to David Bowie a lot, songs that attracted me had melodies and more traditional song structures.”
He remembers Leeds in the late 70s and early 80s with fondness.
“I started at art college in ‘76. It was a great time to be here in Leeds. At the time the art college was known as one of the best in the country. It was famous for its performance art and its fine art department. It was also a great time to be in Leeds because of the whole punk thing.
“There were clubs like the F Club, so you could see a different band, either at the University or the Poly or one of these clubs every week. It was a great place for music, it was a wonderful time to be there.”
Soft Cell caught the attention of a couple of record labels. Tainted Love and several top ten singles followed. Next year will mark four decades since their launch and Almond hints at the occasion being marked.
Talking of anniversaries, the man himself turned 60 a few weeks before we met. He welcomed his sixth decade by signing a two-album deal with BMG Records earlier this year. He also reveals he was made an honorary Doctor Of Philosophy by Edge Hill University just after his birthday and cackles as he says he is yet to learn the Heimlich manoeuvre.
A recent hits and compilation album is to be followed with the first of those BMG albums, Shadows And Reflections. The label asked him to cover a number of sixties baroque pop and torch songs and he has also managed to squeeze in two originals.
The record explores London’s changing landscape through the eyes of a rich man surrounded by luxurious items but no company.
“London has gone too far and it needs to be balanced out, it’s over-corporate and over-concerned with money. All these blocks have no one in them because people want to sit on them to hide their money and it will all crash and they will be filled by normal people” he says.
He may have welcomed his sixth decade still touring, but Almond seems obsessed by his own mortality.
Perhaps it’s not an unusual obsession given the number of near-death experiences he has endured. From a major operation to remove his spleen and gall bladder to a serious motorbike accident which left him in a coma, he thinks his nine lives are almost over.
“I think about death all the time,” he chuckles. Straightening his tone he continues. “I’m just depressive, I can’t stop thinking about it, I’m obsessed with it. I feel like I’m on a countdown and I’ve got to pay the piper for my past at some point.”
Sober and clean since the late-nineties, Almond is now ploughing all his energy and creativity into work. He is determined to do as much as possible before death catches his eye.
But whenever that is, he’s eager for people to know life has been exactly what he wanted.
“I just wanted to go on this amazing ride, meet amazing people, do amazing things, go to amazing places, have incredible experiences,” he says.
“I’ve had great successes, I’ve had massive failures and I just look back and think ‘this has been an amazing ride’.”
* Marc Almond plays Leeds Town Hall on October 10 and Bridlington Spa on November 3. For details visit www.marcalmond.co.uk
40 YEARS OF MUSIC
Marc released three albums in 2014 and has most recently released the musical anthology Trials Of Eyeliner covering the years 1979-2016.
Next year will mark four decades since Soft Cell was formed.
His new album Shadows And Reflections’ is out now, released by BMG
The Shadows and Reflections tour is scheduled for October and November this year.
Marc Almond tours the UK from October 3 with tickets on sale now. He will be at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday October 10.