Marc Almond's London lament: It's over-corporate and over-concerned with money
Turning 60 and continuing to make music, former Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond talks to Joe Nerssessian about the changing landscape of his once beloved London and his own mortality
THE first flat Marc Almond ever bought was in 80s Soho, on neon-red Brewer Street, overlooking strip clubs, theatres, chain-smoking teenagers and fellow punk Bowie fans.
Wide-eyed and fearless, he was drawn to central London, having been brought up in Lancashire and Yorkshire, on a diet of 50s and 60s films – think The Small World Of Sammy Lee, Expresso Bongo and The World Ten Times Over.
Purchasing property is not something one would associate with a budding musician in the UK of today, let alone in London. It's not a change that has escaped the former Soft Cell singer. Sitting inside the central London fashion house where his management is based, he laments the loss of the city's rawness.
"I've grown disillusioned with London in recent years," says Almond. "I've lived here for quite a long time and at first I loved it. Soho was London for me, the concentrated area right in the centre. I came here dreaming of this world of wheelers and dealers and juke box cafes and sleazy strip clubs and girls standing on street corners and rock and roll stars and red lights and neon. But I've fallen out of love with it. London's become a money place; it's lost its creativity."
Some re-emerging pop stars don't always appear as you expect but Almond bucks that particular trend.
His skinny, wiry frame supports a face full of stories and a wide smile. Tattoos creep above the collar of his T-shirt. One, a swallow in flight, makes its way past his Adam's apple which bounces as he speaks in small, sharp bursts, ready to laugh or crack a joke at any opportunity. His sentences often take unexpected corners or diversions but he offers genuine conversation in a soundbite industry.
Almond never intended to be a musician. Growing up in Southport, Lancashire, he wanted to be an actor. His stutter, which still raises its head, put a stop to that but he found the impediment would disappear when he introduced music and rhythm.
"I started doing local gigs but I never considered this would be something I would do as a career," he says. "It seemed too unreachable. I thought I was lucky to be in a band but turning that into a professional musician felt a million miles away."
But succeed he did. Soft Cell were formed in 1978 after Almond met David Ball at Leeds Polytechnic and the synthpop duo caught the attention of a couple of record labels. Massive hit Tainted Love and several top 10 singles followed, the duo going on to sell 10 million records worldwide. Next year will mark four decades since their launch and Almond hints at the occasion being marked.
Talking of anniversaries, the man himself turned 60 a few weeks before we met. He welcomed his sixth decade by signing a two-album deal with BMG Records earlier this year. He also reveals he was made an honorary Doctor Of Philosophy by Edge Hill University just after his birthday and cackles as he says he is yet to learn the Heimlich manoeuvre.
A recent hits and compilation album is to be followed with the first of those BMG albums, Shadows And Reflections. The label asked him to cover a number of 60s baroque pop and torch songs and he has also managed to squeeze in two original tracks.
The record explores London's changing landscape through the eyes of a rich man surrounded by luxurious items but no company. The title track, originally by The Action, sparks the thematic approach while the final song, No One To Say Goodnight To, was the initial inspiration for the concept.
"I was driving past the Thames and I saw these endless blocks of gigantic flat developments going up that were monolithic," recalls Almond. "They are soulless and are meant to be luxury but luxury is about time and space, it's not about living in box."
With composition by Ivor Novello-award winning John Harle, the track offers a melancholic end to a record which includes covers of Burt Bacharach, The Yardbirds, Billy Fury and the Young Rascals.
The concept offers a political element which Almond is eager to discuss.
He calls the buying up of blocks by Chinese and Qatari investors a "terrible crime" but cannot see it lasting.
"London has gone too far and it needs to be balanced out; it's over-corporate and over-concerned with money. All these blocks have no-one in them because people want to sit on them to hide their money and it will all crash and they will be filled by normal people who can take these so-called luxury developments," he says, before joking that those normal people will then become "miserable and lonely" in their so-called luxury apartments.
Almond has played a minor role in the nearing revolution. He began attending Save Soho rallies but is unsure whether it is his battle.
"I woke up one day and thought it's not my experience anymore," he says. "Whatever it was is a different place now and it's for different people. I can't spend my energy trying to get something I had in the past back and live in this rose-tinted view of nostalgia," he adds and jokes "I'm going to be dead in 10 years so I don't give a f**k." He lets out an enormous cackle.
It's not the first or last time he references mortality. But perhaps it's not an unusual obsession given the number of near-death experiences he has endured. From a major operation to remove his spleen and gall bladder to a serious motorbike accident which left him in a coma, he thinks his nine lives are almost used up.
"I think about death all the time," he chuckles. Straightening his tone he continues. "I'm just depressive, I can't stop thinking about it, I'm obsessed with it. I feel like I'm on a countdown and I've got to pay the piper for my past at some point."
Sober and clean since the late-90s – his earlier use of psychedelic drugs and addiction to prescription pills have been well documented – Almond is now ploughing all his energy and creativity into work. He is determined to do as much as possible before he catches death's eye. But whenever that is, he's eager for people to know life has been exactly what he wanted.
"I just wanted to go on this amazing ride, meet amazing people, do amazing things, go to amazing places, have incredible experiences," he says. "I've had great successes, I've had massive failures and I just look back and think this has been an amazing ride."
:: Shadow And Reflections is out today. Marc Almond tours Britain from October 3.