Lisa Stansfield arrives at her local pub in north London with a pair of boisterous, barking dogs.
“Eh, Mavis, Brendan – behave!” she shouts in a Rochdale accent that has lost none of its rough edges despite a decade and a half spent living in Dublin and a move to the capital a few years ago.
Hearing Stansfield speak takes you back. In the late 80s and throughout the ‘90s, the smiley singer with the Elsie Tanner accent was the coolest pop star on the planet. Her seductive, soulful vocals and timeless dance-pop songs saw her top the charts on both sides of Atlantic, duet with George Michael and Queen, win multiple Brits and Ivor Novello awards and feature on The Bodyguard, the biggest-selling film soundtrack of all time.
Four albums were international hits, selling more than 15 million copies and spawning over 20 hit singles, yet Stansfield was never interested in fame. The Adele of her day, she made only the music she wanted to make, didn’t try to keep up with trends and took her career at her own pace.
In the Noughties, she took her foot off the pop pedal to concentrate on acting. Her diverse range of roles included playing a prostitute in John Maybury’s The Edge Of Love, alongside Keira Knightly and Sienna Miller. She was unrecognisable as a posh probable killer in a Miss Marple starring Alison Steadman and as a ‘glamour puss-cow’, as she puts it, in the Cheshire-set, Channel 4 series Goldplated. Stansfield also dipped her toe in to theatre, making her stage debut in the acclaimed West End production of The Vagina Monologues, with Anita Dobson and Cecilia Noble.
Never one to plan ahead, Stansfield pursued whatever took her fancy at the time. She didn’t entirely turn her back on music. In 2004, she released her sixth, studio album, The Moment, produced by Trevor Horn. A greatest hits collection, Biography, reached No.3 and was subsequently certified platinum. Stansfield sold out her first UK tour in years, including a date at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and explored her love of jazz during a residency at Ronnie Scott’s, a recording of which was released on DVD.
2013 has seen Stansfield make a return to the limelight that she can take or leave, but has kept calling her back.
2013 has been a highly successful year for Lisa with two sold out tours (Europe and UK) and she has also been busy in the studio in the UK with her husband and long-term musical collaborator Ian Devaney (the pair met at school) recording a brand new set of soul songs for her highly anticipated new album “Seven” due to be released in February 2014.
“I grew up on Motown, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes and singing along to Chaka Khan,” says Stansfield, drinking tea, keeping an eye on her adorable dogs and frequently howling with laughter recalling her past. “I remember, vividly, as a teenager, trying to hit all the notes in Ain't Nobody. I love soul more than any other music, so there will always be a massive soul influence in the music I make.
“The new songs were written over the past few years. It was just Ian and I sitting down and seeing what would happen. We can be out at night and I’ll have an idea and sing it in to my phone. Or Ian will come up with a melody or a chord progression and we take it from there. We never work to a schedule and we’ve never let anyone tell us what to do. I don’t want someone insisting I target a certain demographic or trying to interfere. I just want to make great music and be in control of my own destiny.”
Stansfield’s love of her soul and teen years spent singing in clubs – she got her break winning a Manchester talent contest aged 14 – stood her in good stead for her biggest film role to date. Indeed it’s hard to think of a better fit for eagerly-awaited, upcoming British music film Northern Soul, the first full length feature directed by award-winning photographer and documentary maker Elaine Constantine.
Stansfield was approached by Bury-born Constantine to play the part of the lead character’s mother more than four years ago.
“I’ve known Elaine for ages – she grew up in the next town to me,” says Stansfield. “It was sort of a given that I’d be in the film, although only when I saw the script did I discover I was to be the naggy old mum! It’s a new role for me because I don’t have kids, but I enjoyed bossing my son, Elliott [James Langridge], around. And I get to shout at my dad, Ricky Tomlinson, which was fun.
“The film looks incredible, but I knew it would. Elaine has wanted to make a film about Northern Soul since she was 14. She says she doesn’t know what she’ll do with her life when it’s finished, but when the film wins lots of awards, she’ll make another one. Well, I hope she does cos she’s a great director. Her attention to detail is stunning and the emotion she captures is amazing.”
Stansfield’s role, she admits, was her most daunting to date.
“In a couple of domestic scenes, I have lots of dialogue, shouting, crying, the works. God knows what I look like! I hate seeing myself on screen, I won’t watch it, but I bet I look horrendous. I’m screaming so much it’s scary. I’m a real Northern harridan… a Professional Northern harridan. Haha!”
The role took Stansfield back to her teens.
“It reminded me of being 13 and going to the local disco,” she laughs. “I used to put on one of my sister’s bras and pad it up and bung on a bit of eyeshadow. I went to Hale Civic Hall, where they did the whole Northern Soul thing. I had my first kiss to a Northern Soul song. I didn’t enjoy it much, but I did get in to kissing quite quickly. Soul was the sound that moulded me. It was why I got in to music.”
Stansfield turns down more acting roles than she accepts.
“Yeah, all the time,” she says. “When you put yourself out there as an actress, 90% of the stuff you’re sent is absolute rubbish. I made a decision that if acting is a string I’m going to add to my bow, it has to be in projects I believe in. There’s no point doing it otherwise.”
On the day we meet, Stansfield has just turned down a TV offer.
“I’ve been asked to appear on Celebrity Come Dine With Me,” she laughs. “For the fourth time. They’re offering the Christmas Special. I adore that show, I was watching it before I came out. This woman was following a recipe that said to use saffron. She had no idea where to get saffron, so she used yellow food colouring instead. Insane!
“Am I going on the show? Am I fuck! I just like watching normal people make terrible meals. Anyway, I’m not a celebrity. I would hate to be a celebrity. It’s never, thank heavens, been of interest to me.”