A respected actor with roles including Susan in Gregory’s Girl, and the original Kristine Kochanski in Red Dwarf, Clare Grogan has recently returned to her first love, music. Back on stage with Altered Images, the Scottish performer is readying her first new music in three and a half decades. “I just thought it was kind of remiss of me not to get around to it”, she tells us as we sit down to chat at Rewind Festival in Henley-Upon-Thames. Talking stage nerves, the innocent days of the ‘80s, and “the song that keeps on giving”, we caught up with the delightful Clare Grogan. Being happy; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Clare, how was it performing at Rewind Festival today?
You know, I’ll be absolutely honest; it’s terrifying because that is a big crowd out there, and I never, ever want to go on and be anything less than absolutely reaching out to every single one of them. So when you haven’t done it for this length of time, suddenly it seems; “how am I ever going to be able to do this?!”
You seemed to have no trouble today though!
The great thing about the Rewind crowd is they’re with you; there’s no one out there waiting on you to fail.
There was obviously a lot of love out there in the crowd for you; did you feel it?
I did! It’s so nice. It’s a really extraordinary thing in my life. I love it, and it genuinely touches me because I’m still in my fifties – let’s just say that! – and I’ve been doing it for a very, very long time, and to still be on the receiving end of this kind of enthusiasm, it’s just very special, it really is.
How does it feel to be carrying the Altered Images name as the last woman standing from the original days?
Well, I’ve been doing it for quite a long time now, and it just feels right. I mean, I almost wanted to, sort of reclaim the songs a little bit, for all sorts of reasons. One, because people just kept on asking me to sing, and do it again, and then I thought; “why not?” I mean, that was a long, long time ago, but I’m just about to sign my first record deal in thirty-six years, and I’ve got [former Altered Images band members] Steven Lironi and Johnny McElhone on the record with me, so it’s almost like we’re back together. They’ve got no interest on going on stage though or anything like that!
Performing live again is one thing, but what tempted you back to recording?
Well, I just thought it was kind of remiss of me not to get around to it. In the first lockdown I honestly, like a lot of people, just sat on the sofa, watched Netflix, drank wine and ate crisps. I was guilt-free about it, totally guilt-free about it! Then in the second lockdown I thought, and I realised I had a space in my head, and over the years I’ve been quite a busy working mum, and sometimes it’s finding the space to be creative. It was hard. So, I thought it was now or never. One of my neighbours is [musician / producer] Bernard Butler, and one of my best friends is Bobby Bluebell [The Bluebells’ Robert Hodges], and obviously I live with my husband Steven Lironi who was in the band, and Johnny McElhone is a good friend.
You’re surrounded by some key players!
Yeah! I am one lucky girl! But you know I’m going to hog the whole limelight again.
Altered Images are still hugely respected to this day; what does that mean to you?
It’s overwhelming sometimes, and I really, honestly mean that. I think one of the things that a lot of us around in the ‘80s were, we were really kind of thinking we were having our fifteen minutes of fame, and here we are, forty years on, still having our fifteen minutes of fame, and I think there’s a perfect poetry to that. I don’t analyse it too much, otherwise it freaks me out. It just does.
I have to ask you about ‘Happy Birthday’; it’s the most sung song in the world, so was your song written - I don’t want to use the word ‘contrived’ - but specifically with that kind of result in mind.
Yeah, it absolutely was. We decided we had to just find something that really took us, just to the next level, and so we decided to write ‘Happy Birthday’ particularly to go; “well, everyone’s got a birthday – let’s see if it works”, and it’s worked magnificently. And I do deals, and I’m not just saying this, I’m not trying to be a big, fat show off, but even this week, I did a deal for ‘Happy Birthday’ to be synced in a new documentary series in America, and it just goes on and on and on; I call it the song that keeps on giving.
It’s incredible how no one else thought to do that.
Well, Stevie Wonder had a go! He had a go at it, but come on Stevie! [laughing]. In fact, quite often, people say; “Clare, sing ‘Happy Birthday", and I go [sings Stevie Wonder’s song]; “happy birthday to ya! Happy birthday!”
You must have seen it pop up in some amazing places; I remember seeing it used in Peep Show, for example.
Yeah, I have. It’s been glorious actually that it’s still used. Even last year we did a thing in China for ‘Happy Birthday’, and I thought; “a whole new market!” People in China knew about ‘Happy Birthday’?! It’s an extraordinary thing. One of my favourite things used to be, occasionally, when I was with my daughter in Top Shop, and they would play ‘I Could Be Happy’ – it would come on in the sound system – and I’d be like that to my daughter; “see! See! I am cool! I am the coolest mum!”
What was it like performing on Top of the pops?
When we started our band, kind of a pinnacle of achievement and what we were aiming for was to be on Top of the Pops. I mean, it didn’t really go beyond that; we weren’t thinking; “let’s tour America, Japan”; we were just like; “wouldn’t it be great to be on Top of the Pops?!” And we did that really quickly. I will never understand. I was a schoolgirl, watching Top of the Pops, and within a year, I was on it, and I will never understand that; how that happened. It wasn’t just luck, I’m incredibly talented [said with tongue in cheek!]. No one likes to mention that! [laughing]
Finally, what’s happening next for you?
Well in my immediate future I’ve got still some summer shows, which is great, because I’m still trying to hit my stride a bit, and I have to say, It’s not easy. I mean, it’s been a long time for us all to meet out, and I just want it to be really back on form for people. And then I’m doing an arena tour with the Human League. That’ll be great! That’s in December. But in between I’ve got lots of shows. I’ve got a show in Ireland [Party Down @ Palmerstown, 10th September] coming up very soon.
With sincere thanks to our friends at photogroupie.com for the shot of Clare. Visit their awesome site here.
Altered Images join The Human League for their 'Dare 40' UK tour in December. For dates and tickets, click here.
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