In the dark bar of a Mayfair hotel, with nothing stronger than water (still), Marc Almond is recalling his arrival in London.

It was only a mile and forty years ago, and the head of Soft Cell, a recent graduate of the art college in Leeds, still hasn’t been the make-up, leather, eighties chart sensation he’s will become . But it’s like a completely different place and era.

“When I came to the city in the late ’70s, I was working at what was basically a video company in Soho,” said the gold-toothed, tattooed, all-black musician, aged 64, how to say it. a pop star (still). “I took the money while the punters were caught around the corner and sold Asti Spumante for £300, and the ladies came and served them. I’m a conductor in a brothel – a criminal, basically! ” he laughs.

For the boy from Southport, this was the opening of a whole new world after the dark, one that would inspire Soft Cell’s landmark debut album, 1981’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. Referring to the cover that gave him and partner Dave Ball their first undead hit, Almond said: “The first apartment I got with royalties from Tainted Love was on Brewer Street.

“Me and Matt Johnson from The The have bought apartments in the same building, overlooking the Raymond Revue Bar. I could actually see the dressing room in the bar, neon lights flashing through my window, like being in some b-movie noir. It was a dangerous place at the time, but I lived the dreams I grew up with. Soho with me to be London, and it was the setting for the show Never Stop Porn. “

Andrew Whitton

Years later, he spoke to Neil Tennant, who confirmed to him that “The Pet Shop boys were inspired by that album. And it became clear to me that it was like a mini-narrative movie, an entire album: a guy who was so frustrated with life that he went to another world in Soho. ”

That’s neat, Tennant and Almond will be reunited this month. In the perfect moment of Peak Eighties Synth Duo’s debut, the Pet Shop Boys were guests on *Happiness Not include, Soft Cell’s first album in 20 years. The pair’s collaboration on Purple Zone was brilliant, a feverish dream for Smash Hit readers. Likewise, the entire album, written by Ball and Almond at their home in South London after the lockdown. It’s up there with the best vocals, still as powerful as Almond’s torch, and the catchy tune that gave Ball’s great electronic production wings.

One of the highlights is Heart Like Chernobyl. It’s not about the Ukrainian power plant. Instead it was an electronic lament for what Almond described as the “insensitivity” we felt after “bombing” news images about the pandemic, environmental degradation and “those things”. drowned refugees on boats”. But in a not so easy timing, the album’s artwork also features images from Chernobyl, a Ferris wheel in an abandoned amusement park.

“And of course, with the invasion of Ukraine, we hear about Chernobyl again because the Russians took it.”

So it’s certainly not a political commentary, but Almond has close ties to Russia. He visited for the first time in 1992, deemed “a cheap date” by the British Council. “They saw me in London doing a couple of acoustic shows with a pianist. And they knew I had a name in Russia – people bought illegal records and loot.

“So I went, I met the most amazing people, and the concerts were amazing: some shabby little halls with no sound at times, an audience that was a mix of generals. leaders, babushkas and young people – who know all the songs! And I have this emotional attachment to Russia, that’s why it’s so difficult now.”

By 2000, he was actually living in Moscow, for three years occasionally working with different Russian musicians and orchestras. “And I fell in love with it. No one has ever been horrible to me. I’ve been on TV talking about gay issues and never received a bad response about it.”

He pointed out that homophonic speech and laws under Putin’s era are several years away.

“I have been treated wonderfully. I’ve played in Soviet-era theaters, for members of the military – although thankfully I’ve never been in front of Putin! Throw away the idea of ​​the propagandist photo-op he could have opened. “Not me!” he shuddered.

Almond’s time in Russia ended after his motorcycle accident in 2004. He suffered a serious head injury when the bike he was riding on pillion was hit by a car in the city of London. . His recovery was slow and it took a long time for him to return to normal activities. “I lost the apartment I had in Moscow – I just couldn’t keep it. I had no money for two years, three years,” he explained.

Eighteen years on, “I sometimes suffer from memory loss and emotional confusion. I get blanks – even [with] songs. I’ve memorized a lot of songs and done a lot of different kinds of shows, but sometimes, one day I can remember everything, the next day I’m just a total blank. But accidents are something I almost never think about in my life anymore. The important thing is, you can’t be a victim forever. You have to put it in your past like something happened to you a long time ago. ”

I interviewed Dave Ball in the summer of 2020, when he was promoting his memoir Electronic Boy: My Life in and Out of Soft Cell. It was the early days of the pandemic and he really took shielding very seriously. The Almond collaborator has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a condition not ameliorated by a near-lifetime smoking habit (he had quit 8 years earlier), not to mention a career music is very alcohol and drugs.

I asked Almond, who these days splits his time between South London and Cascais on the Portuguese Riviera: if he considers himself lucky to have survived a pop career in his prime. the high-flying strays of the Eighties and Nineties.

“Very lucky,” replied the singer. “I was put in rehab by my record label in 1994. I’ve always wanted to manage my professional side with my private life. I am a club person and a party person. But I could still get on the Bruce Forsyth show and be completely coherent, and no one would guess what.

“After that, things started to go wrong. My professional side started to decline, and I faced interference. I was in the process of recording a solo album in New York and I had a complete breakdown, so I was sent home. But the agency was good – they paid me to go to PROMIS rehab, which is not one of those big celebrity rehabs. It’s a real scouring toilet, scrubbing floors, very strict rules. I was there for about six weeks. ”

He relapsed once, on New Year’s Eve of Millennium, “because I thought I had to. And that’s just a hideous and horrible way to start this century. Since then, I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs. I have been completely pure for 22 years. ”

Today, he is an OBE, and his only thing is workaholic. “I’m working on three or four projects,” he said, referring to a musical based on JK Huysman’s 1884 anti-nature novel, which will premiere in London next year. There are some things on the move that are, in part, a reflection of the focus of his scattershot – “because I’m a bit spectroscopic, I can’t relate to everything in terms of the way most people do it.”

He admits that makes relationships “very difficult”. Hence, he is currently single – “I am a flirt! I don’t like committing too much! ” – even though his longest relationship lasted 38 years and he was “very good friends” with his ex. “But I really have no real interest in relationships these days.”

Almond collects his OBE in 2018

/ beautiful pictures

What about sex?

“That doesn’t concern me either. I have a much lower sex drive. I used to be addicted to everything, everything around the chessboard. But I have a pretty low sex drive these days,” Almond happily confessed. “It only arises, as long as it’s expressed, once or twice during the summer period!”

Similarly, however, Marc Almond has better things to do with his time.

“I am 64 years old now and I am more interested in constantly working. The clock is ticking, and we’ve lost two years of our lives. So I have a lot to catch up on. And during the lockdown, I told myself: never say never for anything again. So I will never say never use Soft Cell again. If an opportunity presents itself, and it all works out, let’s see what happens.”

That includes some live performances for the duo – as long as both members are a good fit.

“I’m doing all of Dave’s promotions [for the album] at the moment, because he’s not feeling well – he’s in the hospital because he’s injured his back. And I need him to be healthy again, because I need him for the US tour! ”

You can take the boy out of Soho…

Happiness Not Included (BMG) is now out


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