A CHAT WITH: LISA STANSFIELD
aaamusic | On 22, Oct 2019
The dynamic soul singer-songwriter Lisa Stansfield has won multiple BRIT, Ivor Novello and Silver Clef awards. She’s sold over twenty million albums worldwide and continues to be adored by audiences wherever she goes. Her distinctive Rochdale accent remains unchanged. Interviewer Anthony Weightman chatted to her ahead of her affection 30th anniversary tour, which begins in the UK and continues in Europe.
Anthony Weightman: You’ve said you have a very close and honest relationship with your band, who are a bit like siblings to you. Would you like to say a few words about your forthcoming tour with them which celebrates the last 30 years of your career.
Lisa Stansfield: I think it will be evident when people come to the show. Everyone on that stage is like a well oiled machine. We get on very well. It’s got a bit telepathic, in a way. We almost know what everyone is going to do before it happens. It’s quite lovely really and the audience gets a sense of that. There’s a comfortable feeling in the room. We want them to be part of that. We want people to feel relaxed enough to do what they want without any inhibitions. They just let rip.
Anthony Weightman: There’s a 2005 quote of yours: “I always end up doing things that scare me. I quite like it. I think I’m a bit of a masochist”. Are you still a bit like that, deliberately pursuing things that are frightening?
Lisa Stansfield: Yes, I think it’s good to do things that scare you. If you just did things you were comfortable with, what fun would it be? Doing the same thing day in day out. I’ll say “yes” to things that are quite scary. I usually say “yes” straight away so I don’t have time to think about it. I know I’ll say “Oh My God” and have second thoughts. I put my name on it so there’s nothing I can do about it. I jump in deep so I can bloody well enjoy myself. I usually do and it’s usually really good.
Anthony Weightman: Are you looking after your vocal chords between performances? I remember your Ronnie Scott’s era when you avoided conversation and going out in the day to protect your voice because of the twin performances each evening.
Lisa Stansfield: Ronnie Scott’s is an exceptional example. You’re constantly singing. You just can’t use your voice at any other time. It was the middle of winter and I was so paranoid about getting an infection or a cold. On tour you sort of get used to it. We become neurotic because we’re always worrying about our voices. When you’re on tour you’re up against every aspect of your day that could damage your voice. People think I make a massive fuss about it, but if the voice wasn’t there people would be very angry with me. I am neurotic for a reason, but not all the time.
Anthony Weightman: Has giving up smoking about a decade ago helped you hit the high notes?
Lisa Stansfield: It will be ten years. It’s absolutely unbelievable. When you give up smoking you realise how completely pathetic it is. How addictive it is. It’s not a good friend. It’s a very bad friend to have.
Anthony Weightman: Sometimes you speak about your flow of consciousness. You say that there’s a delayed reaction to the lyrics that you write. The words pour out of your mind but only later, by looking back, you then begin to understand what you’ve written.
Lisa Stansfield: I think that happens a lot when I get an idea. I have to think very quickly about the words that will fill a melody. It’s very lovely though, because it’s cathartic.
Anthony Weightman: You once said that many successful songs have a first line that’s “sort of a nonsense” and that there are so many intelligent songs are never heard. If true, I suppose that’s a great loss for people who love music.
Lisa Stansfield: People are attracted by pop songs. They’re quite simple. I’ve written hundreds of more poignant and serious songs than ‘All Around the World’, but people love those sort of songs and I’m that type of artist. I can’t help being that type of artist. That’s what the world made me. I have no choice. This is my thing. That’s where people see me. That’s what people love me to do.
Anthony Weightman: You once said that it’s a bit of a disease if you constantly criticise yourself over technical stuff, because you tend to end up with a song that lacks soulfulness. Presumably your years of experience have taught you the potential dangers here.
Lisa Stansfield: I think you should be preoccupied with technical things, but there’s a cut off point. It’s very difficult not to look at the minutiae of things when you’re that close to it all. You have to stand back and be objective. Listen and look at it as an outsider. It is difficult.
Anthony Weightman: I know you’ve refused several invitations to be a judge on TV talent shows because you felt they were manipulative, damaging, destructive, lacking in integrity and also pursuing short term gain. This sounds very negative for a young person with hope, chasing their dreams and wanting to express their individuality. Do you still feel strongly about this?
Lisa Stansfield:Yes. It’s a very personal thing. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. If people want to go into that and make that decision, they will be up against lots of criticism. It’s very soul destroying. It’s not very nice. A lot of people go into it with their eyes half open and they don’t realise how very brutal it can be. I’ve never let anyone take my integrity away from me. I’ve never done it. I never want to do it to anybody else.
Anthony Weightman: In 1991 you collected a Brit Award for Best British Female Artist. You were advised not to say anything controversial and you made a Gulf War comment: “wouldn’t it be lovely if there wasn’t a war”. If there was a sound recording of this remark, it seems to have disappeared. To me, this was just a compassionate remark which wasn’t particularly controversial.
Lisa Stansfield: I just thought: “I’m not going to let you do that. I’m not going to let you stop what I’m going to say”. It was a completely inoffensive thing that I said anyway. It was, as usual, completely blown out of proportion.
Anthony Weightman: Is Gregory Porter still on your wish list for a duet?
Lisa Stansfield: I met him quite recently because he was playing the Royal Albert Hall. He’s a lovely guy with an unbelievable voice. I don’t know whether I’d want to record or do something on stage.
Anthony Weightman: I recently spoke to Clare Teal who did ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ , the Frank Loesser song, as a duet with him on his show from Cardiff last Christmas. They had enormous fun.
Lisa Stansfield: He’s got a beautiful voice.
Anthony Weightman: Personally, I’ve always felt that that was a harmless, flirtatious song that has witty lyrics and a great deal of charm. But, how do you feel about the criticisms of it? That it’s creepy, sinister, manipulative and about a predator involved in sexual coercion. Last year it was even removed from some radio station playlists, although I understand some of those stations have now changed their minds.
Lisa Stansfield: It’s pathetic. It’s just pathetic. We’re not allowed to flirt in the workplace any more. It’s ridiculous. It’s just people making a fuss about nothing. There’s always someone who’s trying to kill the joy. There’s always someone who’s got no friends.
Anthony Weightman: You once said that the events in your life, together with the way they came along in quick succession, felt pre destined to happen, without much personal control. Do you still feel that way ?
Lisa Stansfield: I think most things, for me, have been like that. There was never any long term plan. There was a loose plan, but things just come along and it’s being in the right place at the right time and a lot of hard work. Yes, I think a lot of things have been surprises. You make a split second decision and that defines your life. It’s weird. It’s really weird.
Anthony Weightman: I was amused to hear that a swearing ban was once attempted by the council in your home town of Rochdale. Did it work?
Lisa Stansfield: No! They’d never do that in Rochdale! A swearing ban?
Anthony Weightman: An important question. Are your dogs being looked after and thoroughly spoilt when you go on tour?
Lisa Stansfield: They are being looked after. They sort of have two homes. When we tell them they’re going on holiday they get really excited.
Anthony Weightman: On the subject of touring you’ve said you’ll keep going “until we chuck you out”.
Lisa Stansfield:Well, it depends on the public.
Anthony Weightman: I assume that’s unlikely to happen soon.
Lisa Stansfield: Thank you very much.