On the release of their first album in 39 years, music writer Matt Jacobson interviews Altered Images singer-songwriter Clare Grogan.
To close their exhibition celebrating Scottish rock and pop, the British Music Experience welcomed performer, actor, author and presenter Clare Grogan to the BME for an evening in-conversation.
Clare Grogan, has been performing and gigging since she first jumped in a Transit van aged 16 and drove from Glasgow to London for a John Peel session and has barely left the stage in the last two decades. After initially splitting, after six Top 40 hits, in the year of the release of Bite, their third album, Altered Images have been touring, on and off, since 2002.
As an actor, she’s appeared in multiple films, TV dramas, comedies and soaps over the years, from (of course) Gregory’s Girl to Comfort and Joy, Waterloo Road to EastEnders, Taggart to Doctors, Red Dwarf to Still Game to Father Ted. And she remains busy on screen – My Old School with Alan Cumming, based on a true story about a Glasgow chancer who went back to his former school as a 32-year-old, has recently appeared on the film festival circuit.
As a presenter, she’s hosted film, travel and music shows on television and radio, appearing front and centre on The One Show, BBC Scotland’s Corner Shop Cook Off, STV’s Scotland’s Real Heroes, 6Music, VH1 and BBC Four. There have been radio and theatre comedy/drama adventures aplenty, too, with appearances alongside Josie Long, Mel Giedroyc and, in 2020, a touring production of Neil Simon’s classic Barefoot in the Park.
And as an author she’s written two books, Tallulah and the Teenstars (Number 2 with a bullet in the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Chart) and Tallulah on Tour.
And now, Altered Images are back – they have released their first album in 39 years – Mascara Streakz. Grogan got to work, write and record round the kitchen table during lockdown with musician husband Stephen Lironi. Their near-neighbour Bernard Butler was only too happy to contribute, and Robert Hodgens (aka Bobby Bluebell), an old friend from the thrilling Glasgow music scene of the early Eighties, also lent a songwriting hand.
I wanted to know more, so I interviewed Clare about her home city, the album and influencing the new bands of today.
You grew up in Glasgow, are there characteristics to Glagwegians that helped you strive to succeed?
Very much so, I think there is certainly a Glasgow Character that helped. I think Glaswegians and Liverpudlians are very similar, we love being big and bold but we are also surrounded by people who keep us grounded and that’s so important and that’s the reason I’m still around doing what I’m doing. Nobody allowed me to get ahead of myself, they were very encouraging but they are also saying… you know, get over yourself!
The gap of 39 years between albums,why such a long gap, and did you always keep in touch with those you wanted to work with?
I think it started with one song and it progressed into an Altered Images album, I’m not sure I set out to do so. It was the creative process really. I am also a believer in timing and I think the record I made is the most personal record I’ve ever done and I think there was a reason for it – it was to say to me and others, I’m still that young girl we saw years ago, I still have attitude ,drive and ambition. I don’t know if it was because I was due to reach a significant birthday and I thought I’m still not over this but, I’m not finishing anything off, I’m reigniting….
Did you always have ideas for songs within the gap?
Well I was writing for other people and I still had a foot in the door as such. I’m a working Mum so quite busy.And when the pandemic hit it set a pause in my head and I thought, what do I want to do and it became obvious I wanted to write songs again. I could have decided to get into yoga or gardening but no – I wanted to write songs!!
The footage shown tonight from, The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops – do you reflect on that period of time regularly?
People remind me and talk about it all the time – if that wasn’t the case, I probably , really wouldn’t. The overwhelming feeling I had about it all was how crazy young I was. And when I look back at the footage I am as old as my daughter is now and I can get quite a bit teary about it because I literally didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a protective shield around me and left me feeling exposed. I don’t regret any of it – it was just the time and phase that was incredibly special. It just makes me think I was vulnerable and I find that difficult.
Many artists have been inspired by Altered Images, how does that feel to be an influence?
Well, I’m ready to acknowledge it now and not be embarrassed by it. I think it links into the past when, you know – nobody likes a show off, but i’m at a point where I can recognise and accept to say, its ok I did something significant to people and that’s a beautiful thing.
Here we are at the British Music Experience, the home of some spectacular memorabilia. I myself have curated two Smiths/Morrissey events here and my prized possession is Morrissey’s shirt from a gig in Liverpool – what is your favourite or special item of memorabilia you’ve collected along the way?
Oh wow, just to say first, a very long time ago we were on the same bill as The Smiths at the Hammersmith Apollo! But, with memorabilia, it’s honestly so hard to say one, or narrow things down. I had nothing until my Mum found a box of treasures. I had given lots away over time for charity auctions etc – but to find that box and the script from Gregory’s Girl was in the box – that was something special.
Thank you Clare and very best for the future.
Thank you so much…
With thanks to the BME, Love and Peace.