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Issue 1084

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Feature

Linda Lewis: Songbird

Linda Lewis
Linda Lewis Linda Lewis Linda Lewis Linda Lewis

When mentioning the name Linda Lewis to Joe public he will tell you "Yes of course I know who she is, she sang; 'Rock-a-Doodle-Doo', 'It's In His Kiss', 'Baby I'm Yours,' and '(Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard' amongst others." Then he'll say "Shame, I really liked her!?"

"Shame" would refer to the some what checkered (in and out of the public eye) past, and the perplexing mystery why an artist as talented as Lewis is not a household name in her own country. Sure, there was some chart success, which was intermittent during the seventies. Some may even say Linda was way ahead of her time, fusing seemingly disparate musical elements together - folk, soul, pop, rock and reggae - into her totally five octave unique signature sound.

But what really happened back then and how did it shape the future for British Songbird Linda Lewis. I track her down for a spot of breakfast and chat about those good ol'times and the no so good ol'times in a quaint cafe in London's Portland Place. One things for sure, our Linda's never been shy.

Lee: It’s great to see you back. What’s been the catalyst behind your return?

LL: Well, I was been doing this Soul Britannia thing about a year and half ago. Then I had a new album ready with all the material ready to go, and then my mum fell ill - I'm the oldest one so I'm the main care giver. My mum had a stroke but she's stable now - my two sisters are both in LA. Ones with George Michael, and the other... we're all singers. I had to sort of take charge and take care of everything, and it kinda put me in a not very nice place really... My mum wanted to be a singer and she had a great voice, she really did. A bit deeper than mine, really rich, but she didn’t have the opportunity. She tried to run away with a band before I was born. When I was born, she must have heard my dulcet tones and thought "I'm going to put that girl to work." My first memory was standing on a counter in a shop singing to people - I was about 3. Then, she then sent me to stage school - Peggy Ann Farrell school of 101 for children. There were the posh people - the Coronas. And then there was the east end lot - cos I come from Canning Town which is east end... As I said my mum was in a coma for ages and it was bad news, but she's now stable and we've got her in to a home now... (she giggles) Cos we've all got different dads - and she keeps telling me my dad is Norman Wisdom! (she errupts in to laughter) I thought it was going to be someone like Nat King Cole!? (Jokingly) She's not all there... So since she's been stable, my albums Lark and Fathoms Deep were re-released.

Lee: Did you know your album was getting re-released?

LL: No. They called me up and said we’ve got these interviews for you. And Warner Brothers put out my music out through 'Collector’s Choice.' A few years ago I had a compilation of those two albums - but this is like, the complete songs. All the songs that people haven’t heard from years ago when they were on vinyl. Then I thought I'd go away to Italy. I did some co-writing with Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Marti Pellow. I Just threw myself into writing.

Lee: What made you go to Italy?

LL: Because he (Difford) hired a farmhouse and asked me to go out and spend some time. I think he goes there now and again, he invites people to come out and he has invited me. I love their music (The band Squeeze) - clever lyrics, I love clever lyrics. He invited me before and I said no I can’t, I don’t like writing with other people. Although I have written with the guys from Basement Jaxx and Jim Cregan (husband, member of the group Blossom Toes) obviously - it was such a great experience. I loved doing it, so I've got a whole bunch of new songs and I re-met Tony Visconti. Tony was on the cards to produce these songs a couple of years ago, so that sort of set me off on a thing.

Lee: You taught yourself how to play the keyboard and Guitar?

LL: Yeah, I ALWAYS loved the piano. I remember there was a piano in our school, when I went back to normal school. I retired when I was about 7 - I couldn’t stand the stage school thing. It was all the mums pushy pushy, and we did lots of film work. I was in 'A Hard Days Night.' You see me for about 2 seconds in the film, apparently Phil Collins was in there as well . I met him a while ago and I said to him "Me and you were in a film together a while ago" and he sort of looked and me like 'what films that?' I also met the Beatles - not then, later.

Lee: Do you read music?

LL: Sort of, I got away with it when I was a backing vocalist. I was with these girls Leslie Duncan, Pee Pee Arnold, and Madeleine Bell. They said "Can you read music" and I went “Yeah, course I can”. I couldn’t. But I saw the music going up and down, and then I heard the music - so I knew it goes like that. If you were to put some notes in front of me from a song, it would probably take me half an hour to work it out.

Lee: You went to Southend, walked into a club and started singing with John Lee Hooker. Is that right - you were 15 years of age?

LL: It was in the afternoon, it was 1961 and i was with my mum. my mum was like “Go on, get up there and sing!” I didn’t even know who John Lee Hooker was! And she said “Go on, go and ask him!” So I got up and sang 'Dancing In The Street.' My mum then worked on him, you know what I mean (I think I do!?). And he introduced me to John Arden (Sharon Osbornes dad) in his place in Carnaby Street, they had the Small Faces and people like that on their books.

Lee: Is that when you met Ian Samwell?

LL: Yes. I was discovered by Ian Samwell, I was about fourteen-fifteen. He wrote 'Watcha Gonna Do about it?' He's the one that introduced me to all the R&B stuff like Carl Thomas and The Dixie Cups. But It didn’t take off for me until I wrote two albums and had a bit of acclaim. The record company came to me and said we need a hit single. So I thought right ok, I went to sleep one night thinking I need a hit single and I wrote a list. I keep a list of the things I want under my pillow. I dreamt that I was on a 'One Armed Bandit' and it came out 'Rock-a-doodle-do' - I thought ok that’s good. I told my little sister, she was eleven and she came up with some phrases.

Lee: There has been times where you have had hiatus in your career, did you impose that upon yourself?

LL: That’s right, that’s exactly right. Yes I did, I just ran away... I dipped my toes in and ran away. Cat Stevens said to me "Your frightened of fame" I fell in love and stuff instead of getting on with my work. Like getting married etc...

Lee: You've had phenomenal success in Japan. Did it come as a surprise?

LL: When I first went there with Cat Stevens it was back in the 70’s - We immediately fell in love with it. As the years went by Jamiroquai put something on his album (Emergency on Planet Earth) and it was a hit in Japan and it started getting like “What happened to Linda Lewis” This record company started chasing me. Little independent label called Terpin Records run by Neil Knott, son of Sir John Knott. I had written loads of new songs, so we recorded and had I another number one in Japan. Then Cat Stevens had written 'Remember the Days in the old school yard'. He wrote the song for me. I didn’t want to do it his way, I did it my way and we kind of fell out . Clive Davis then jumped on board and wanted me to be like Whitney, obviously before she was around. He wanted me to do the ballady type of songs, I didn’t want to go with that, I'm rebellious. I admit I cut my nose off spite my face. I don't regret it cos I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

Lee: Do you regret that. Do you regret staying here in the U.K?

LL: I've been to the States, done that . I lived in L.A near Rod Stewart, and I was nearly burnt out with everything . I was like madder than Amy (laughs) - I was like, mad and angry. I came back to rehabilitate myself and tried doing a thing with my two sisters forming the group 'Lewis,' we did that. It was fun, but a nightmare. You know how sisters can be.

Lee: Of all the places you have played, where's your favourite or what sticks out in your mind?

LL: Glastonbury has to be one. I played the very first Glastonbury - it's all on film. The other one I remember has to be the Festival Hall, it was my first big thing. I was the headline and I remember I had this long white dress on - it was see-through. How rude! I had to stand centre-stage and I was riveted with stage fright. This was unbelievable stage fright! I thought I was gonna die!! I just remember walking onto the stage as though I stepped through a looking glass, then I didn’t know anything else til I came off – I wasn’t on drugs or anything. Apparently I got this standing ovation - I wish I had been there!? (she laughs). I wish someone had filmed it or something... One I DO remember is the first time I played Ronnies (Ronnie Scotts). I would walk in and I remember the walls full of these famous people. I went there to see all these different people - I saw Jimi play the night before he died. It was a bit sad actually, he was just jamming with the group 'War.' Very sad.

Lee: Can I ask you about singing with George Benson in Monte Carlo in 2006. What was that like?

LL: It was in front of the Princesses and they had the royal table and all that. It's was fantastic. He is a wonderful singer and guitar player. We went to a funky little bar afterwards and there was a great jazz trio, and as you walk in everyone is like wooohoo.... they are all drinking and dancing. This trio are like these old black guys in their 70’s and they are like "I just wanna sing with you," so I go and sing. George is sitting there, he comes and joins in and it’s like a competition . We had a drink, and he was serenading me at the bar. I was like oh my God – George Benson is singing to me!

I'm sure he won't be the last.

Linda Lewis plays London's Jazz Cafe on the 24th & 25th of Oct. Also The Colchester Arts Centre - 13th November. And finally 17th - 19th November @ Billboard Tokyo. Catch Linda also on DVD - 'MARC BOLAN THE CELEBRATION CONCERT.' Featuring Various Artists filmed At The Shepherds Bush Empire, London in September 2007.
Words LEE TYLER

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