Sandie Shaw story, Morrissey mention.




'Another comeback? No thanks

She was a star in the 1960s and - thanks to Morrissey - found fame again in the 1980s. But Sandie Shaw has had it with pop, she tells David Peschek

Thursday October 28, 2004
The Guardian

The cheekbones, the bob, the bare feet: Sandie Shaw remains one of the most potent icons of the 1960s. Now in her late 50s with cheekbones and bob intact, she couldn't think of anything more ridiculous than her iconic status. "I think it's so funny, whenever people ask me about it. I don't know what they're talking about to be honest!"

For years, there has been little but half-hearted repackaging of her best-known songs. Now, there's a flurry of releases: a four-CD boxed set she gleefully describes as "warts and all"; compilations of her French, German, Spanish and Italian language recordings - a "new way of looking at the work", and two reissues. The first, Reviewing the Situation, is a 1969 album Shaw produced herself of her favourite songs from the era; at the time, it barely had a release at all. The second album, Hello Angel, was released on Rough Trade in 1988 and reunited her with the composer of the bulk of her 1960s material, Chris Andrews. But none of this, she says, firmly and without fuss, constitutes a comeback. She is too busy, and too fulfilled by her work at the Arts Clinic, the London-based counselling practice she runs for creative people.

She knows too well the particular problems engendered by the entertainment industry. Discovered by Adam Faith, the girl from Dagenham had her first number one single - the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic (There's) Always Something There to Remind Me - while still a teenager. Between October 1964 and February 1969 she had eight top 10 singles, including three number ones, and won the Eurovision Song Contest with Puppet on a String, a song she used to loathe but now "doesn't mind" to the extent that she has it as her mobile phone ring tone.

What followed inspired Shaw's most famous fan, Morrissey, to write the lyric: "Did that swift eclipse torture you?" If torture is too strong a word, certainly the fallout from the 1960s was not pleasant. Shaw refers to the 1970s as "the dark ages". She recorded sporadically and without commercial success. Her marriage to designer Jeff Banks collapsed. She tried acting, playing St Joan, which she loved, and Ophelia, though she found the mad sister somewhat drippy, preferring the "rude and wonderful" Hamlet. The one good thing to come out of this unhappy time was her discovery, through the musician Ann O'Dell, of Buddhism, for which Shaw remains a subtle but unequivocal evangelist.

The 1980s brought marriage to Nik Powell, co-founder of Palace Pictures, and rediscovery by a new generation of musicians, particularly Morrissey, who was no doubt irked that it was Heaven 17 who finally brought his heroine out of apparent retirement. Recording as the British Electric Foundation, in 1982 they produced Music of Quality and Distinction Volume 1, an album of their favourite performers singing their favourite sings. Shaw sang another Bacharach/David classic, Anyone Who Had Heart, because she had never had the chance to before. It was the beginning of her rebirth.

In 1983, after Rough Trade label boss Geoff Travis took a nervous Morrissey to meet his idol for the first time, Shaw released a cover of the Smiths' debut single Hand in Glove, which made number 27. Backing her on Top of the Pops, the Smiths took their shoes off in tribute. Morrissey himself twirled in the background and Shaw writhed on the floor.

The same year also saw the extremely limited release of the album Choose Life, made with a very different group of musicians. Although she had written in the past, mostly for other singers, this was the first significant songwriting Shaw had done for herself. "It took me a long time," she says. "I financed the recordings myself, and I released it for a Buddhist peace expo that went on for about a month in Kensington." Three years later, when she briefly found herself signed to Polydor, she hoped her A&R woman, whom she'd known through Powell, would release the album. She didn't. "I suppose it was a taste of what artists go through," Shaw says, clearly still disappointed but not bitter. "It was interesting for me, because I'd had success almost immediately the first time around."

Two singles released for Polydor, including a lovely cover of Lloyd Cole's Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken, failed even to dent the top 40. Look on the B-sides, however, and you'll find two sparkling Shaw co-writes: Johnny Guitar, partly about Johnny Marr, partly inspired by Chuck Berry, but also about "the lead guitar thing, which is always the same"; and Steven, whose lines, though intended to be "tongue-in-cheek", comprise some of the most perceptive writing about Morrissey ever.

Disillusioned with Polydor, she moved to Rough Trade and began work on Hello Angel, with Stephen Street - then collaborating with Morrissey on his solo debut, Viva Hate - doing most of the producing. As well as the songs Shaw had written with Andrews, material was chosen from other writers who excited her, including the notoriously gruff Jesus and Mary Chain ("They were so nice") and Mike Scott of the Waterboys ("wonderful"). Morrissey donated the brassy romp Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness, which didn't fit the bitter cast of Viva Hate, and Andrews and Shaw came up with Nothing Less Than Brilliant, which captured perfectly the liberating thrill of the whole project.

Travis was fascinated by the prospect of working "with someone who'd been present at these seminal moments in pop history". Before the release of Please Help the Cause as a single, he remembers, "Morrissey wrote me a note, saying: 'This is our chance to make Sandie a star again.' It was very sweet." He pauses. "Actually, it was more of a command."

However, neither Please nor Nothing Less than Brilliant, the follow up, received significant radio support; neither charted. Nor did their parent album, though it sold "respectably". It didn't help that Rough Trade was heading into difficulties that would eventually result in Travis losing control of the name for a few years. In a way, though, Hello Angel was a success for Shaw before it even reached the shops. Was she bothered that the records didn't chart?

"I think Geoff was bothered, I think he thought he'd lost the record. He thought he'd let me down. He hadn't. But he felt bad, and that's how I got the tapes back - he gave them to me. They did their best, I think. It was fine - like being a proper indie artist. It was a new thing for me!" She has, she says, never worried about chart positions: "Once it's on vinyl it's there for ever."

She regards The World at My Feet, the 1992 autobiography that jump-cuts revealingly between the 1960s and the 1980s, as her next album and since then, simply hasn't felt the incentive to sing. If that seems like a shame, it doesn't to Shaw. Nor does she feel thwarted or frustrated. "If I wanted to sing I could. It's not what I want now. I'm cured!" She laughs - and when Shaw laughs, she really laughs. "I'm joking! To guest on somebody's thing, that would be different." The star-making machinery behind the popular song - in Joni Mitchell's words - has no appeal. Shaw is also conscious of the difficulties of making the right record, and trading on the past in the wrong way would be "death" to her.

"I can't tell what we went through just trying to get my photo taken. I don't have the time to invest in those narcissistic pursuits. And I wouldn't want to let anybody down. I don't like being famous, that's not an incentive. Perhaps to be involved in a project - involved, not leading." Jane Birkin's recent album Arabesque, in which she reinvented the songs of her late husband Serge Gainsbourg as if confronting his ghost, "felt right", Shaw says, "but another record from Cher? No thanks."

What clearly does turn her on (though she's currently on sabbatical) is her work at the Arts Clinic, which offers "psychological well-being services for those in the creative industries". At the beginning of the 1990s, Shaw went to London University, studying psychodynamic counselling at Birkbeck College, at the same time as her daughter Gracie was studying English at University College, just down the road. ("We seem to do things in tandem," Gracie, Shaw's daughter by Jeff Banks, says now). By the end of the decade she was the head of a successful practice.

Still, never to hear her sing again feels like a loss. She pauses. "Today's the answer's 'no'," she says, "but tomorrow... the answer's 'maybe'." If Shaw were not the ebullient, mischievous woman she has grown into, there would be an ineffable sadness about someone whose stardom appeared so effortless yet who was "never comfortable" as a star. There isn't.

"It was easier at the beginning but it got madder and madder as the music business developed," she says. "It became an industry. It became a career. You have to see where it begins and where it ends or you can't be involved with other people. Within itself it's real, but it's not reality. I've known songwriters jump from woman to woman because they want something to write about. I can express my life in lots of different ways: as a clinician, as a Buddhist, as a mother. It's not something that can be pinned down. It's the biggest adventure you'll ever have."

· The box set, Nothing Comes Easy, is released by EMI on November 8.
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