It’s still all about the music for ever youthful Lulu
- Credit: Decca
The sixties pop icon Lulu is heading back to the region with her new show for dates in King's Lynn, Norwich and Bury St Edmunds. She tells us about her undimmed passion for music, family and why she prefers not to look back.
'It was a theatre or small hall and I was very, very young and I sang Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and I forgot the words,' laughs Lulu about her memories of her first ever performance. 'I just repeated the first verse and I wanted to die but nobody mentioned it afterwards. I thought it was the worst thing I had done in my whole life. I was probably about six.
'What I do remember is I had a sticky-out frock and I think I was so pleased with myself that the excitement affected my memory.'
It may have been a mix of excitement and embarrassment but singing was clearly something that stuck a chord with that little girl growing up in the Glasgow suburb of Dennistoun in the 1950s. So much so that six decades on that she shows no signs of slowing down.
She will be back on stage with her All About The Music show, singing and telling stories about her life, in the region this month.
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Now 68 and a grandmother, Lulu – who was born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie – still has the fresh-faced looks and energy of someone much younger and her passion for music remains undimmed.
'Six decades is amazing,' she says. 'They say time passes really fast when you are having fun and I could apply that to me. It's happened without me even blinking because this is what I live for. I live for music. It's a blessing in my life.'
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Her rise to fame came suddenly when her debut hit Shout, a cover of the Isley Brothers' song, shot up the charts in 1964. She was 15 at the time and had just moved to London.
She remains a household name after a career that has taken her to the top of the charts, her own TV show at the height of the swinging sixties, winning Eurovision with Boom Bang-a-Bang in 1969, being nominated for Grammy and Novello Awards and appearing on Strictly.
She also has her own successful beauty business and remains musically up-to-date, collaborating with today's hit makers.
She performed with Take That on Relight My Fire which reached number one in 1993 and last week re-joined them to perform at the premiere of their musical The Band, which arrives in this region early next year.
Talk about music with the singer and she is keener to enthuse about current artists she loves rather than harking back to the 1960s.
'I know a lot of people my age sit around and listen to old music but that's not what I do,' she says. 'I listen to lots of stuff, old and new. The new Lady Gaga record is great, I love Zayn Malik, Adele, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Sigma, and I think Beyoncé has done something that no other black female has done. She is a consummate entertainer. I just get so excited by so many artists.'
She loves Suffolk's own Ed Sheeran and has a definite soft-spot for fellow Scots Paolo Nutini and Calvin Harris. 'Paolo is the real deal and is a real blues singer,' she enthuses. 'I also think Calvin Harris is doing the most unbelievable work. There is so much I enjoy.'
Does working with younger performers help keep her shows exciting? 'I've only been with this band for around four years and that's helped shake things up. They're all younger than me so there's a young energy which I love. We keep it fresh and new, and the great thing is these guys are influenced by the same music that I was and still am but they have a new slant.'
Back in the 1960s, Lulu was one of a number of high profile female singers to breakthrough. Though it was an era of mini-skirts and widespread sexism in the music industry, she actually thinks today's young female bands and artists are under more pressure.
'Now its world domination or nothing,' she says, 'and that's a tremendous pressure. You'll be dropped like a hot potato if you don't sell a certain amount of records. It was different back then.'
One odd quirk of her early career was that she became one of the first female artists to play an Eastern bloc country in 1966.
'I was with The Hollies and it was scary,' she recalls. 'It was cold, the place was very run down and there were bullet marks on buildings. There was debris and there was a lot of poverty. It was also memorable because when we did the concerts, there were guards all around watching the audience so they didn't stand up or get excited. When they started to get excited, the guards slapped them down.'
Though she has no plans for retiring the approach of her 70th birthday has given her pause to reflect, particularly about family.
Earlier this year she appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? Where she discovered more about her mother, Elizabeth, who was 'given up' shortly after her birth in Glasgow in 1927, and brought up by foster parents.
She thinks she is in an incredible time of her own life with her grandchildren 'such a blessing'. She tells how her granddaughter calls her Nana Lu and her joy in her role is clear.
She has been married twice, first to Bee Gee Maurice Gibb in 1969 and then to hairdresser John Frieda, who is the father of her son Jordan. But the passion in her life today is music.
'I've always been so interested in the thing about getting older and trying to make yourself look as good as you can because I really want to sing forever – not just because I want to look good – because I want to be relevant in the music industry,' she says.
She has slowed down she admits, though it is more about being picky on projects she takes on. 'As far as I am concerned, I don't work anywhere near the way I used to because it was compulsive then,' she says. 'Now I choose everything I do and I am as busy as I want to be - and as busy as anything.'
She still does a lot of travelling and touring. How does she cope with all the packing? 'Well now I want to focus on the music when I'm on stage. It's not about costume changes and it's definitely not about glitter or sequins or frocks. I want the focus to be about the music so in practical terms, it is much easier now. I wear a hat so I don't even have to do my hair. I can be ready in 20 minutes.'
One thing that has never changed about Lulu, from when she first emerged as an unknown Scottish teenager to today, is her boundless energy.
'I guess I was blessed with a lot of energy, and I think if you are healthy you have a lot of energy,' she says. 'Some people love it and some would prefer you to shut up and sit down. It's all about how you use your energy for the positive, and as you get older it's about pacing - and for that I do meditation and Chi Gong.'
Does she exhaust her young band? 'They say I do,' she laughs.
If someone had told her 15-year-old self she would have this life, what would you have thought? 'I would have said 'are you having a laugh?'. How could a young 15 year-old have predicted the way my life was going unfold? It has been a roller coaster. I thought I was going to be a singing hairdresser who never left Glasgow!'
• Lulu: All About The Music is at King's Lynn Corn Exchange on October 8, 7.30pm, £36.50, 01553 764864, kingslynncornexchange.co.uk• She will also be at Norwich Theatre Royal on October 21, 7.30pm, £37.50-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk• Then at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, on October 22 and November 7, both 7.30pm, £45, 01284 758000, theapex.co.uk