It’s almost 30 years since Lisa Stansfield stormed the UK charts with her debut album, Affection. As Jane McGowan discovers, however, the Lancashire lass is still in tune with the times
You could be forgiven for thinking that Lisa Stansfield’s break-out hit, All Around the World, was a matter of months ago, if the amount of times it gets played on the radio were anything to go by. In fact, the song which took the top spot in more than seven countries, selling millions of copies and catapulting the pixie-haired, big-voiced northern lass into the pop stratosphere, was released in 1989.
“Oh, it were mad,” says Lisa in a North Manchester drawl so broad it makes Liam Gallagher sound like Prince Philip. “Singing had always been my life and deep down I knew I would be successful, but nothing prepares you for that level of fame.”
The second of three daughters, Lisa was born to parents Marion and Keith in Manchester in 1966. Soul and, in particular, Motown were the sounds of choice in the Stansfield household and the 51-year-old songstress cites her mother’s love of Diana Ross as one of her main influences. Soon people began to take notice of this waiflike girl with a very big voice.
“Oh, my mother wheeled me out all the time,” she reveals with a throaty laugh. “I would be tucked up in bed, and if they were having a party I’d be dragged out to sing. I found out after I got famous that actually my mum used to sing in a skiffle group. But that all stopped when she got married, as it was seen as being a bit common. My dad is a good singer too and loves karaoke. But I didn’t realise when I was starting out that I got my voice from them.
“From being five or six I just wanted to sing and then, as I got older – about 11 or 12 – I started to write. I couldn’t see anything else. I think it’s something I knew I was going to do – singing was going to be my life and there was nothing anyone could do about it.”
At the age of 14, Lisa entered the Manchester Evening News Search for a Star contest. She won, landing herself a record deal with Devil Records. And while the first single, Your Alibis, was not a chartbuster, it nevertheless got her noticed by big boys Polydor. A handful of singles later, with the hoped-for sales still unforthcoming, Lisa and the record company parted ways, but she didn’t go unspotted for long. For in 1983 she moved into television, landing a role presenting kids pop show Razzmatazz on ITV.
“It was great fun,” she says, “but I really wanted to be a singer and so I decided to move on.”
It was the right decision. Lisa joined forces with old school pal Ian Devaney – whom she would marry in 1998 – and his friend Andy Morris to form Blue Zone. Moderate success followed in the dance charts, but the breakthrough came in 1989 when Devaney and Morris were asked to play on a session for dance music outfit Coldcut. For a laugh Lisa went too – and ended up co-writing People Hold On, which became a big Coldcut hit. As a result, Arista Records asked to sign her as a solo artist. Devaney and Morris agreed to drop the Blue Zone moniker and the trio became brand Lisa Stansfield.
“It was under my name, but we were still a band in a way. I was just the frontman. It’s still like that now with me and Ian. We do everything together musically, but people just see me. He loves that though. He hates all the photos and interviews and stuff. He’s more than happy to let me get on with it.”
Affection, the 1989 album that included All Around the World, made Lisa an international star. There were gigs and recordings with George Michael and Barry White, and in 1992 she wrote a song for the soundtrack of Whitney Houston’s smash hit film, The Bodyguard.
“I don’t think anyone is prepared for that kind of success,” she admits. “You have no control over where it’s taking you. It almost has a life of its own and you have to go with it. It’s like the product is your boss and you have to respond to its demands.”
“My mum was brilliant. She had spent a lot of time on me in the beginning, driving me around and stuff. And it’s funny, looking back, as I was always being told: ‘Don’t get too big for your boots – don’t say that, don’t act like that.’ Meanwhile my mum was living it up, going round the market waving at people like she was the Queen. Everyone in Rochdale knew who she was and she loved it.”
Lisa had always dabbled in acting, and when Marion passed away she stepped back from her music to give it a more serious go. She appeared on stage in The Vagina Monologues and on the big screen in Edge of Love, with Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller, and later the acclaimed drama Northern Soul. At 51, she finds acting an increasingly big draw.
“Oh, I’d love to do more,” she says with real desire. “Especially as I get older. It doesn’t matter what your face looks like when you’re acting, as there’s not as much pressure as in music. I do consider my age – after all we are in an industry dominated by youth. And I’m not a spring chicken, so you have to try and bring something else to the table.”
For now though, Lisa is back with her first love of music, hitting the road for a UK and European tour that reaches G Live on April 7 – the day after the release of her new album, Deeper.
“I am genuinely excited about this album and I do think that, as a body of work, there is something really special about it. For me it’s the kind of record I would put on if I was getting ready to go out on a Friday night. You know when you’re younger the ritual of getting ready is almost a religious act. ‘I’m going to go to a club and find a bloke and all my dreams will come true. And it starts by picking the right music to get you in the mood.”
Deeper, her eighth studio album, has been a labour of love that Lisa hopes will find favour with fans both old and new.
“We’ve developed another side to the audience,” she explains. “The children of my early fans have now grown up and are coming along too. At first it was weird seeing this odd mix of people and thinking: ‘Have those kids just been asked to take their mother out?’ But now I can see they’re into the music too, which is great.”
And yet, despite the enthusiasm of the younger generation, Lisa is relieved not to be starting out today.
“I am so glad I did it when I did, as the business was much more lucrative,” she laughs. “No, really, if you want something bad enough you’ll do it no matter what. For me there was no other option. And I just keep going. You know, there’s no plan. I’m just doing the best I can.”
Lisa Stansfield will be at G Live on Saturday Apr 7; glive.co.uk. Deeper is released on Apr 6 (earMUSIC)