Mercurial star has tales to tell: Lulu talks ahead of Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury shows
Midway through our chat, she breaks into song.
Lulu, the woman who hung out with Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Mick Jagger, the woman who slept with David Bowie and married a Bee Gee, the woman who won the Eurovision song contest with Boom-Bang-A-Bang and who underscored the 1974 James Bond film by singing the theme tune to The Man with the Golden Gun, starts to clear her throat.
There’s a sharp intake of breath. And then the phone starts to vibrate.
OMG. I imagine private clients paying £25k for this type of stuff. There’s a momentary pause. And then she hits it.
“You know you make me wanna shout.
“Look, my hand’s jumping.
“Look, my heart’s thumping.
“Throw my head back.
“Come on now.”
The interview could end right there and right then and I’d have more than enough to write about. But it doesn’t, of course. For in addition to being a trooper, a survivor and a woman who lived through the most remarkable cultural epoch of our age – the swinging sixties – Lulu is a Grade A raconteur.
Which is just as well. For she’s back on the road with a new show that focuses on a mixture of greatest hits and tallest stories.
Celebrating 55 years since the release of the debut smash hit single Shout, Lulu’s On Fire tour will see the Grammy-nominated singer play 35 dates across the UK, starting on September 19 and ending onNovember 2. On Fire is a show packed full of hits, such as The Man Who Sold The World, Relight My Fire, To Sir With Love and, of course, Shout, amongst many others, as Lulu recounts her remarkable life now at 70 years old and a career that has outshone many of her contemporaries.
The shows will follow Lulu’s gig as Take That’s very special guest for their 37-date Greatest Hits Live Tour, where every night they will reunite to perform their #1 smash hit Relight My Fire together.
Backed by her band, a huge LED screen (for the first time) showing carefully selected personal and career defining moments, Lulu will have audiences nationwide sitting, standing, dancing, singing, laughing and simply listening to an amazing story that started on November 3, 1948. She says: “I’ve so enjoyed touring with my amazing band over the past few years that it didn’t take very long for me to get the urge to hit the road again. We’ll be playing here, there and everywhere, so I invite fans old and new to come along and share a great night covering my six decades in music.”
The singer, songwriter, actress, businesswoman and national treasure is, of course, one of Britain’s greats. She has stayed the course, when many have faltered, simply because of her talent as an artist and her innate determination. Her powerhouse performances have ensured a loyal following of fans who come out year after year to witness a legend at work.
From Lulu’s perspective, there’s unending gratitude that she can continue to do the thing she loves most – and the thing that she excels at – during the autumn of her years.
“When I do a show these days, my main objective is that people leave saying ‘what a great night’. It’ll be fun on the autumn tour, that’s one thing you can tick off.
“The other is because I’ve had such a life and I’ve had a long career and written a lot of songs, there are also little bits of story that go with them. I remember when I was younger, I’d go on stage and it was bam bam bam bam, song after song after song. It’s not to say I slow the pace down these days. But I used to love American acts who could talk about their songs; British acts were never very good at it.
“So this tour is like taking a journey with me, kind of through my life. I’m full of gratitude for the fact that I can still do it and I’m loving it. I can’t wait to get on tour.”
Being on the road with her mate, Gary Barlow, has whetted her appetite. She’s enjoyed the adulation of hundreds of thousands of fans after hitting the road in April and staying out for two months.
“It’s the same when I’m on tour with Take That. The audience go mad. You have people screaming for you. I’m not just blowing my own trumpet. I know for sure I’m one of the lucky people. My job is something I love. On my own tour there’ll be a lot of old stuff and a few new songs. So people can sing along if they want to. And I kind of insist everybody gets up and dance.”
The stories have been remarkable. Lulu – or, to give her her full name, Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie – was born in Lennoxtown, Stirlingshire, and grew up in Dennistoun, Glasgow. She lived in Gallowgate for a while before moving to Garfield Street, Dennistoun. At the age of 12 or 13, she and her manager approached a band called the Bellrocks seeking stage experience as a singer. She appeared with them every Saturday night: Alex Thomson, the group’s bass player, has reported that even then her voice was remarkable.
Her father was a heavy drinker and domestic violence was rife. Her mother and father would hammer each other nightly and Lulu failed to sleep properly because she was afraid that her parents would accidentally kill each other. That fear has ruled her whole life.
Her mother would have a black eye but was “trained not to tell anybody”.
“Everybody heard the screams,” she said. “It sticks to you. It determines how you react, how you act, how you think. And it’s always there.”
At the age of 14, she made a break for it and received the stage name Lulu from her future manager Marion Massey. She was signed to Decca Records in 1964 and when she was only 15, her version of the Isley Brothers’ Shout, credited to ‘Lulu & the Luvvers’ peaked at #7 on the UK charts. Massey guided her career for more than 25 years, for most of which time they were partners in business, and Massey’s husband Mark produced some of Lulu’s recordings.
“Marion Massey was my protector. She was my surrogate mother. She was very much my mentor and my teacher in many ways. I was very lucky to have someone like that look out for me. She had my back all the time. We split because we’d been together for 20 years. I was grown up with a family at the time and it was just time to move on.
“Like my marriages. I don’t believe that relationship failed.”
Ah yes, the marriages. Just weeks before her 1969 Eurovision appearance, Lulu married Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. Maurice’s older brother Barry was opposed to their marriage as he believed them to be too young. Their honeymoon in Mexico had to be postponed because of Lulu’s Eurovision commitment and their careers and his heavy drinking forced them apart within four years.
Her second marriage was to celebrity celebrity hairdresser John Frieda. It ended in 1992, after 15 years. She has an adult son, Jordan, from her relationship with Frieda, and is a doting grandmother to Jordan’s two children, Isabella and Teddy.
“I don’t believe my two marriages were failed marriages. Instead, I think they lasted the time they meant to last. Now I look back and think I’m a good picker. The relationships lasted a very long time. I am eternally grateful.”
We talk a little about the stories behind her songs. “Most songs have a story. Some don’t, like Shout…..” And then she starts singing it. “But there are others, like To Sir With Love and the reasons for me doing that were fascinating. You know, there’s a lot of story there. There’s a truth that I like to tell and people are interested in what happened.”
Her appeal has been enduring. And during the 2010s, Lulu has enjoyed a remarkable career renaissance. She hosted the BBC TV series Rewind the 60s, with each episode focusing on a year during the 1960s, highlighting the social and political issues of the decade, as well as music and interviews with personalities. She took part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2011, with Brendan Cole – though they didn’t get on. A few years later, she opened the closing ceremony of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. There has been lots of TV, from The Great Comic Relief Bake Off to All Round to Mrs. Brown’s alongside Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield and more recently Who Do You Think You Are. There have been several successful tours, a stint in the musical 42nd Street, which lasted for four months, and, of course, her recent tour with Take That.
“It’s amazing. Truly,” she says. “I feel very grateful that I have fans who come back again and again and again. I know some of the fans now because I’ve seen them so many times. They are the sweetest things – you see them all in the front row. They are part of it. You have a relationship with them and they know that.”
Of course, there’s a world of difference between playing Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre or Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn and filling an enormous arena with Take That. But she enjoys the variety.
“I’m having the best time with the Take That tour. Never have I done so little, I’m having so much fun. When I come into the show, I come in almost at the end. So I have to wait and keep singing and keep my energy up while the boys are on stage. The show’s come to a certain level by the time I come on, so I have to come in at the top. Physically, I come up at 50ft high and I have to match that with the singing and my attitude. But that’s what I like, it’s not a hardship.”
There’s plenty more to come. She feels as though she’s still got a great book inside her and she craves more time with her son and daughter-in-law. “Yes, there’s lots to do. I’ve never really done the definitive book and I like time with my son and fabulous daughter-in-law. They’re living with me at the moment, in fact, and it’s fabulous because I love my family.” She’s mercurial. At one point, she drifts off to talk about the new Elton John biopic, going completely off piste for a while as she reflects on her old pal and tells me she’s been to see the movie twice and may go again. But music pulls her back.
“Music rather than men has stayed the course. It’s true. It’s been the one staple in my life. Music is my first love and it will be my last.” And she bursts into song, again: “Music of the future. And music of the past……” She’s great. She really is.
“It’s just how it is. There will always be something in the back of my mind about the sort of life I’ve led. You know, I was a child who was brought up to think you marry and that person will make you happy – and now we know that’s a fallacy, it’s asking too much to give someone else that responsibility. The more modern way is that marriage sometimes only lasts for a certain time.”
Whenever she’s feeling blue, she writes a gratitude list, snapping herself out of reverie and reminding herself of the reasons she should be cheerful. And foremost among those is the remarkable career she’s had, which started in the swinging sixties. “Heady is a very good word. I used to say it was kind of scary. It was so out-of-breath. The whole time, I felt like I was breathing shallow. I’d be sitting next to Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger would be passing and he’d call my name. Man, I was just a teenager. But I was lucky and blessed to have been a part of that revolution. I was in the midst of the maelstrom. I was carried away by it. It was an incredible time. I don’t think there’ll ever be a time like that because it was a musical revolution, we’ve not had that since. There are so many kids who are so brilliant but the time for the 60s, we just took over the world.”
They did just that. They took on the world and won.
Lulu will play Birmingham Town Hall on October 1, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre on October 6 and Shrewsbury Theatre Severn on October 8.