Alison Moyet: Contemporary electronica classic, live in SA

Alison Moyet, circa "The Minutes". (Courtesy Alison Moyet)

Alison Moyet, circa “The Minutes”. (Courtesy Alison Moyet)

South Africans whinge about only getting tours from artists past their sell-by date. So pay attention when a constantly reinventing artist brings her UK Top 5 tour to your town. Multi-million selling songstress, and Mercury, BRIT and Grammy Award nominee AlisonMoyet brings the critically acclaimed tour, “The Minutes“, to South Africa, along with an attitude younger divas would do well to heed.

This interview originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2013/10/27.

Mention Alison Moyet, and conversation is split into two camps: those who remember her for her Yazoo-era and other ’80s hits (recall “Don’t Go”, “Is This Love?”, “Weak In The Presence Of Beauty”), and those who’ve followed her career since then. A respectable number, as it turns out: 2002 saw her leaving a contract with Sony and releasing “Hometime”, which reached certified gold sales, propelled her into the best-selling female artists ranks for that year, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Pink, and earned a nomination as “Best Female Vocalist” at the BRIT Awards. 2010 saw her touring the UK alongside BBC star JoolsHolland, including doing songs she’d written for the play “Smaller” with Dawn “French & Saunders” French. West End also saw her singing in the hit musical “Chicago” in what was planned as a short filler run, but was extended to play for six months. Moyet’s latest album, “The Minutes” (May 2013) sees her reprising her electronic roots – and receiving a warm reception from both critics and fans. It’s been hailed as “cinematic, energetic…. stirring and beautiful”, appealing “to hipsters and housewives” and as “a near perfect contemporary masterpiece that could soon be hailed a classic”. It charted at No.5 in Britain – all the more impressive given that it was released independently after Moyet parted ways with a major record label deal following her refusal to star in a reality television show.

“We’re a month in, and the tour is going brilliantly, and the audiences are great,” Moyet says from a hotel in Brighton where she’s booked under a pseudonym. “This is the first time I’ve worked in electronics since the early ’80s and Yazoo, doing songs from ‘The Minutes’ and also from the last thirty years. But now I’m fitting those songs into the electronic template, which is different to how I’ve been working for the last while, fitting some electronic songs into an organic template.”

Records are so cheap, so if you want what’s on them, I think you can stay indoors and listen to a record. The live experience should be different… it’s never just about being there, never just about tits and teeth.

– Alison Moyet tells it. Hopefully, the new generation is listening.

So, will Alison Moyet live, circa 2013, include some of the old hits? “I’ve picked up fans all the way through my career,” she smiles. “There are as many as would like me to be harking back to the old material as there those who would hate me harking back to it. But I believe you can’t become a tribute act to your old material – discard all that you are as an artist and make yourself a karaoke act. My long term fans know very well what to expect – they know I’m not a nostalgia artist. That doesn’t mean I don’t do old songs, but none of my tours, ever, have been about reproducing an album live on stage. Records are so cheap, so if you want what’s on them, I think you can stay indoors and listen to a record. The live experience should be different. If you’re honest about your work, you have to present it in such a way that you remain engaged with the music. I really give it in a live performance, it’s never just about being there, never just about tits and teeth.”

Moyet is calmly opinionated, with a dry sense of humour running through many of her comments – and, indeed, much of her work. The release of “The Minutes” (originally slated for early 2012) was delayed after Moyet’s major label record deal ended. “I appear to have forfeited my recording deal because I won’t do reality TV. No-one needs to make an album that badly. Tea anyone?” she quipped in a social media post in February of that year.

“The idea that anyone would imagine that you can go onto a celebrity show, getting pissed and giggling and plopping your chest out to make people look at your work… that is a folly. Singing is my job, and part of that job as an artist is to constantly progress and evolve. It is my vocation, but if to do that I have to sell every part of me, then that’s just not going to happen. People sometimes come to me and say, ‘How do I become a singer?’ You sing! You just sing – music is the one art form that belongs to us all; I love it when people come together and sing, not caring at all what anyone’s voices are like. If you’re asking, ‘How do I get 50 000 people to watch me when I sing?’ God knows! Ask someone who does know, but that’s not me.”

The idea that anyone would imagine that you can go onto a celebrity show, getting pissed and giggling and plopping your chest out to make people look at your work… that is a folly.

– Alison Moyet discusses “reality television” and contemporary music marketing

“The Minutes” is truly a fine album, a piece of intelligent contemporary electronic music with considered lyrics and layered musical compositions, and evidencing a sense of life’s dualities, ranging from joy and fun to what Moyet would call “the grim”. It is an album that South Africa is lucky to have the opportunity of seeing toured live, especially amidst a sea of the “nostalgia artists” that she refuses to be. But it’s not the sort of album that’s easy to just churn out.

“It was great working with Guy (Sigsworth, producer for a star roster that includes Björk, David Sylvian, Imogen Heap and Bebel Gilberto, as well as Madonna, Britney Spears, Goldie and Seal),” Moyet says of her producer and collaborator on “The Minutes”. “He could work with anyone he chose to, and here he’s working with a middle-aged artist whose past their big record selling years because, simply, he likes my work. It was self-funded, and that has its own concerns. But, creatively, it was great. We didn’t have that young A&R guy who only has an eye on the charts, or keeps saying, ‘We really need some covers to get radio play.’ We worked almost like a band would. He gave me a loop, and I’d cut ‘n paste it and write a song. Then he’d break down what I’d done and we’d discuss what the story and the lyrics meant to me, and he would build up the music again. No-one cared what we were doing, so we could make the record I wanted to make. Ironically, that meant it got to No.5 on the English charts. I’m really proud of that. Sometimes, you just have to have faith.”

This interview originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2013/10/27.

AlisonMoyet plays the Cultivaria Summer Concert series in Paarl on Sunday 15 December (Liqui-Fruit Amphitheatre, 132 Hoofstraat, Paarl, 021-8729754, tickets R290 – R495 at Computicket.com, doors 6pm, starts 8pm; “in the event of rain, concert will take place on Monday 16 December”) after two dates in Johannesburg (Friday and Saturday, 13 and 14 December, Emperors Palace Centre Court, R295 – R475, 8pm). More on AlisonMoyet.com and Cultivaria.com

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