With an acclaimed new album Seven out on Monday featuring the hit Carry On, LISA STANSFIELD tells long-time friend CARY GEE that she's never been happier ? but still can't stand the Tories
Lisa Stansfield is feeling a tad emotional when we meet in ITV's studios on London's Southbank. She has just finished filming for a documentary about the famous Granada Television studios, which is where "it all began" for her after she won a talent competition, and admits that looking back made her quite tearful.
The year was 1982 and a fifteen-year-old Stansfield won the competition singing the Human League's The Things that Dreams are Made of. In retrospect, it seems an apt choice of song. I remind her that it's almost as long ago since I first met her and her musical partner Ian Devaney. Is she surprised that a quarter of a century after her achingly cool brand of R 'n' B catapulted her to international stardom she is still making music, still with Devaney, now her husband, and about to release her seventh studio album?
"I think everyone else is. But I'm not. Of course, Ian and I have had our ups and downs, in more ways than one. We'll row about anything, but we just really, really love each other."
Could she envisage making music with anyone else? "No. I couldn't be as honest with anyone else."
So when these differences occur in the recording studio, who gets the final say? "We just work our way through," she demurs, reluctant to "cause offence". Unsure of the exact date of her anniversary Stansfield celebrated 25 years with Devaney on Valentine's Day this year "with a bottle of champagne and a damn good shag!"
After a prolonged absence from live performance Stansfield returned to the stage for a brace of intimate gigs in December of last year. After a triumphant "homecoming" in Manchester she played to a sell-out crowd in London's Scala. I mention the apparent lack of straight fans in the audience that night. Even the girls seemed to be gay. Has Stansfield always been aware of her gay following?
"Of course I have," she laughs. "Years ago I was told, 'Give the gays and the girls what they want and the rest will follow.' I don't think I've always managed to do that. So this time around I'm going to pull out all the stops!" For Stansfield this means "being as fabulous as everyone wants me to be. Just try and stop me from stuffing myself into a ballgown!"
Of course, when Stansfield propelled herself from clubland into the mainstream with dancefloor fillers like People Hold On and This is the Right Time life was very different for gay people than it is now.
"I know a whole generation of young gay men whose mothers, many of them friends of mine, grew up crying to my music, knowing how difficult life could be for their sons. When you speak to some of these younger guys they really do not understand how hard people fought for their future, and their right not to be judged." While never deliberately inserting a message into her songs Stansfield believes her honesty has contributed to her gay fanbase.
Having recorded over four decades which was her favourite? "Not the f**king nineties! It was a fight against everything." Surprisingly it wasn't the eighties either, when she sold the first of nearly 200 million records, won the first of her two Brit awards for Best Female Singer and scored a world-wide smash with All Around the World. "There was so much pressure. I just didn't realise what I had at the time."
Stansfield claims now to be in a happier place, enjoying more than ever before her music, and a burgeoning acting career – she recently finished filming a lead role in the musical drama Northern Soul, and was offered a stint behind the bar at the Rovers Return. "I'm in control now.'
She credits her rediscovered creativity with a move back to London, from Ireland. "I loved Ireland, too much. It was all so lovely, but at the same time without a deadline I wouldn't do anything. I'm naturally a very lazy person! But give me a kick up the arse and I move! I mean, really move!'
Nowadays the Devaneys split their time between London and New York, which Lisa likens to a "huge battery. Just walking down the street recharges you."
Her new album has been partly recorded in her home town of Rochdale, at "Gracieland", a reference to "the other singer from Rochdale", Gracie Fields, who, coincidentally was born Grace Stansfield!
"When Ian and I are alone we have no discipline. In Rochdale, it's a case of bang! bang! bang! Stuff gets done!" Stansfield enjoys going out in Rochdale, where she says, "Everyone still knows me."
So what can we expect from the album and the accompanying European tour? For a start, larger venues than she recently played. "We felt quite guilty to be playing in such small venues last year. But it was what we wanted to do." In Jakarta last week (where Stansfield played the Java Jazz festival at the invitation of the Indonesian government) the organisers had to remove the seating in the venue there was such a crush.
As for the album, it will feel "bang up to date", with contributions from contemporary artists, while retaining a classic Stansfield sound. If her recent live performances are anything to go by, fans will be thrilled by the enduring quality of Stansfield's voice, which has retained purity at the top while maturing into something rich and wonderful in the lower register.
One thing that has remained constant to both Lisa and Ian over the years is a commitment to social justice. She recently spent a year traveling with Roma people, and was appalled at the treatment they received. A documentary of her travels may be completed if she can find the time. In 1998 Stansfield was named as one the biggest private donors to the Labour party. Does she think she got her money's worth?
"I think that as long as you're not singing about it, not f**king banging on about it like some artists then it's fair enough to get involved. I'm older now and politics is still very important to me. As an artist I certainly don't feel duty-bound to express an opinion, but as I writer I write from the heart. We shouldn't be afraid to express an opinion just because certain critics may not like it, or disagree, though a part of me says, 'Just shut up Lisa!'"
What does she think of our current leaders? "Oh pur-lease." Stansfield rolls her eyes and struggles for words. Eventually she finds some but they are largely unprintable. "I see how this government divides peoples, sets them against each other, and I just want to cry. I imagine what they say to each other when they think that no one is listening. They think that most people simply don't matter. It's so derogatory. I'm sure they have a right good laugh. That's how I feel about the f**king Tories."
So what does she listen to when she needs a lift? "Anything that makes you think and makes you feel is worthwhile."
And dance. Although Stansfield claims to be a terrible dancer herself she assures me that there is plenty to make you move on her new album.
"Just imagine Janis Joplin in a ballgown!"