Dates and times
Before Adele and Amy, there was Lulu. Now she’s back. Britain’s first great female rock and soul voice has made the album of her career.
This is no hyperbole. Hearing is believing.
Making Life Rhyme is the first album which Lulu has written for herself, a deep, rich, emotional, autobiographical stew of musical flavours, harking back to the raw groove of her classic 1965 debut smash Shout and fast forwarding to the most soulful pop music of today. Faith In You has the Brit-gospel resonance of Emeli Sande. The Answer Is Love is an epic anthem of life lessons blessed with an unforgettable melody. Cry is a heart-bleeding soul ballad of tough love. Hypnotised is a horn-laden, hand-clapping, souped-up 21st Century Motown belter that would have Pharrell and Taylor Swift dancing in the aisles.
“I don’t know why it’s taken so long,” admits Lulu, the most youthful 66-year-old you’ll ever meet. “I should have done this years ago. But life is what life is, and now to write an album about how I see my life, it feels like it fits so well.”
Lulu has been in the music business for 51 years. Yet she seems utterly undimmed by time, slim, vivacious and energetic, with an appealing combination of bright eyed sprightliness and a very adult, no-nonsense directness. “I was thrown into this business in my childhood. It’s a minefield, you see so many people harmed by believing in their success. You think you’re invincible, then crash, it all comes down. I’ve managed to look like I’m holding it together but it ain’t been easy. This is what I’m talking about, everything that I’ve been through in my life. It’s really about going beyond the problems everyone’s got. I’ve been there, done it but now I’m living in the solution. That’s what it’s about!”
Making Life Rhyme is Lulu’s first album in ten years. “I was in no hurry to make another record. It had to be something special.” Its roots lie in an invitation to perform a blues set with vintage American session players at BB King’s Bar & Grill in New York in February, 2013. A glowing New York Times review hailed “the power and the passion” of her voice. It was a reminder to Lulu of what music meant to her. “I really like pop music but if I could describe my own voice it would seem like rock with a little blues feel. I started going that kind of bluesy way, going back to my roots.”
For the original sessions, Lulu began recording blues covers with a small band of hand-picked musicians, overseen by her musical director and the album’s co-producer, Richard Cardwell. “It was just great musicians in a tiny little studio. It was like starting again.” Lulu was inspired to bring a couple of her own songs into the sessions and “it took on a life of its own.” Decca Records liked Lulu’s new material so much, they encouraged her to keep writing. “Everything they heard they just loved. I’ve never had this before. Decca empowered me.”
The singer has dabbled in songwriting over the years and, indeed, Tina Turner enjoyed a major global hit in 1993 with Lulu’s song I Don’t Wanna Fight. Her (18-month younger) brother Billy Lawrie has always been her closest collaborator and came on board as the album’s other co-producer. “Billy has always been a writer. I push him, and he pushes me. We love melody and we know each other so well, he’ll know what I’m thinking before I say it.” They worked with other writers, including Ben Mark (Take That), Jim Cregan (Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens) and Martin Sutton (Celine Dion, Mike & The Mechanics). “It just grew and grew, every song we did it went further.”
“I love every single thing on this album, every single thing!” enthuses Lulu, animatedly describing her hands on role in the studio with Richard and Billy. “It was so exciting. Richard would be mixing something , driving us mad playing it over and over a thousand times, and a counter melody would come, and we’d have to put that on too. New songs were practically being written over the top of songs. I didn’t want to stop.”
The music has roots in Sixties and Seventies styles with the sonic clarity of contemporary pop. “I definitely didn’t want to sound like a throwback. Because I only listen to modern music, really.” She excitedly cites Bruno Mars, Pharrell, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Emile Sande, Beyonce, Sigma and Labrinth as artists bringing retro soul up to date. “My influences are from way back but the ones I like today are influenced by the same people. And their recording technique is fabulous. The crispness of the handclaps! I love it. The young musicians I’m working with have got so much to give. Young and old together is good, experience and enthusiasm, it’s fabulous.”
Lulu started young, a 15-year-old Scottish soul sensation. Born into the tough world of Glasgow’s working class tenements in 1948, she was raised plain Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie. She has been such a fixture of the British entertainment landscape for so long now, she is not particularly defined by her musicality. She has sung at the Eurovision, hosted a Saturday night light entertainment TV show, acted in films, theatre and television and sold her own brand make up. “In the beginning it was never about being famous. I wanted to sing, whether I got paid for it or not. Then all of a sudden I had a hit record. Bam! Boom! You don’t know what’s happening, it’s euphoric and terrifying at the same time, and you kind of get caught up in it.”
She has been twice married (the first time, aged 19, to Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees) and twice divorced, enjoyed an infamous encounter with Jimi Hendrix in the Sixties and secret romantic liaison with David Bowie in the Seventies. “I’ve been through a lot in my life, a lot of struggles. I’ve been one of the luckiest people but I’ve also been thrown from pillar to post, emotionally.”
It is probably fair to say she hasn’t always made the music she wanted to make. But along the way there have been such stone classics as 1967 number one To Sir With Love, 1969 soul stormer Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby), 1974 Bond theme The Man With The Golden Gun, Bowie collaboration The Man Who Sold The World and even her 1993 smash with Take That on Relight My Fire. Her new album stands head and shoulders with Lulu’s very best and most loved work.
“Making Life Rhyme is about how I’m living my life now,” she says. “I’ve dealt with demons, I’ve dealt with anxiety, I’ve dealt with sadness. Now I like who I am, I feel good about the realisations that I’ve come to and the way I conduct myself. I feel like I’ve grown up in a way. And yet, the opposite is true. It’s like I’m just beginning.” She laughs at the absurdity of it all. “You know, at heart, I think I’m still waiting to be discovered!”
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