Marc Al­mond

We could bang on for hours about all the things that make Marc Al­mond a leg­end. This is a man who performed a song about rent boys (Sto­ries of Johnny) on Terry Wo­gan’s chat show backed by a chil­dren’s choir. But he’s also a vi­tal record­ing artist who’s ha

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - WORDS nick levine

No artist gets through a 35-year mu­sic ca­reer with­out weath­er­ing a few ups and downs, but Marc Al­mond is cur­rently en­joy­ing a real re­nais­sance. In March, a ca­reerspan­ning com­pi­la­tion al­bum fea­tur­ing Soft Cell and solo high­lights, Hits and Pieces, re­turned him to the top ten. He’s also signed a new, ma­jor la­bel record deal with BMG, a com­pany with form when it comes to rein­vig­o­rat­ing what Marc calls “older artists with a good body of work and a good fol­low­ing of fans”. So far, it’s pay­ing off. A few weeks af­ter this interview, Marc’s new al­bum Shad­ows and Re­flec­tions en­ters the charts at num­ber 14 – his best ever po­si­tion with a solo record.

We meet at Marc’s of­fice in an up­mar­ket part of cen­tral Lon­don, in a build­ing he shares with a ma­jor fash­ion house – let’s hope they’re neigh­bourly and give him a de­cent dis­count. Marc’s clearly in a great mood and it’s a plea­sure spend­ing an hour with him talk­ing about mu­sic, gay his­tory and ca­reer longevity. But first: that new al­bum, on which Marc adds his own unique vo­cal drama (and loads of strings) to a se­lec­tion of 60s clas­sics.

His cover of How Can I Be Sure, a song you might as­so­ciate with Dusty Spring­field, is as in­tense and sat­is­fy­ing as your last big fight with your boyfriend.

The idea of record­ing an al­bum of or­ches­tral cover songs came from his la­bel, but Marc found a way of mak­ing it true to him. “There was a dan­ger of end­ing up with an al­bum of stan­dards, you know. Those are great songs, but ev­ery­body does them”, he ex­plains. “But I did a live show where I sang a few songs from the 60s, so I fig­ured that could be my start­ing point. I had young par­ents who lis­tened to pop mu­sic on the ra­dio, so I grew up with the dra­matic bal­lads of that time. I al­ways loved the way rock ‘n’ roll mixed with an orches­tra: big singers, big songs. That be­came my theme for the al­bum. I wanted to make not just an or­ches­tral al­bum, but a great vo­cal al­bum and an al­bum whose songs have a cer­tain goth­ic­ness to them – kind of baroque pop.”

As Marc points out, this mu­si­cal era has been a touch­stone through­out his ca­reer. Think about Soft Cell’s cover of Tainted Love, his Gene Pit­ney duet Some­thing’s Got­ten Hold of My Heart, and his solo smash The Days of Pearly Spencer: they were all 60s songs that Marc rein­vented for a new gen­er­a­tion.

Marc fell in love with mu­sic in the 60s, but the decade also shaped him in other ways. “At school, ‘queer’ was kind of a poi­sonous word”, he re­calls, al­most re­coil­ing slightly. “I still find it very hard to adopt that word to my­self. It still feels a bit alien. Grow­ing up, I think I was scarred by it more than I re­alised.”

How­ever, he says his school days yielded plea­sure as well as pain – a very Marc Al­mond com­bi­na­tion. “I went through the bul­ly­ing and the name-calling and the mak­ing up of girl­friends – I even had a cou­ple [of girl­friends], though noth­ing much hap­pened”, he says with a know­ing smile. “But I also found that a lot of boys my age grav­i­tated to­wards me be­cause they wanted to find out about their sex­u­al­ity. They wanted to ex­per­i­ment with me. So some of the time, cer­tainly, I was hav­ing a great time! It was clan­des­tine and all very hush-hush, of course. But school wasn’t en­tirely a bad time for me.”

Com­pared to the “ca­ma­raderie and fight­ing the same fight” of the 70s, when he came of age, Marc says to­day’s LGBT+ com­mu­nity feels a bit “frac­tured”. At the same time, he ad­mits: “I can’t speak on what a young gay per­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence is like now. I’m sure it’s as pro­found in their way as mine was pro­found in my way.” Yet he ex­presses dis­may that an im­plicit and per­ni­cious peck­ing order still splits our ranks. “There’s still a great prej­u­dice in the gay com­mu­nity against peo­ple who are camp or ef­fem­i­nate”, he says. “The hard, loud, gay man who’s maybe been brought up in quite a tough sit­u­a­tion – maybe in a tough provin­cial town – he is of­ten dis­missed.

Peo­ple say, ‘Oh, he’s just camp.’ But that kind of gay man is of­ten hard as nails. That’s his ar­mour and it takes some sur­vival to be able to do that. I think it’s a prej­u­dice that’s re­ally bad for the gay com­mu­nity.”

At one point in the interview, Marc bor­rows a line from Quentin Crisp that he has ab­so­lutely earned the right to bor­row. “I’m one of the stately ho­mos of Eng­land now”, he quips. So we end by ask­ing why he thinks he’s en­dured. Af­ter all, not many artists who ap­peared on Top of the Pops in the early 80s are still able to book 18-date UK tours, as Marc is cur­rently do­ing.

“I’ve just been re­lent­lessly bang­ing down the door, re­ally. I’ve just been bel­liger­ently there, crawl­ing along and get­ting up again. ‘Oh here he is again!’ It’s sheer bloody-mind­ed­ness re­ally!” he jokes. Then he al­lows him­self to be­come a lit­tle more se­ri­ous. “It’s taken a long time, but in the last few years, I feel like I’ve re­ally had re­spect from the mu­sic busi­ness. There were times when I was just tol­er­ated and treated as an out­sider. Peo­ple thought, ‘He’s good but he’s gay, so let’s put him in the gay cor­ner.’ But I re­ally feel like I’ve per­se­vered and I’m start­ing to en­joy the fruits of some mu­si­cal re­spect.”

Shad­ows and Re­flec­tions is out now, mar­cal­, @mar­cal­mond

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