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Brit singer-songwriter Julia Fordham speaks to Attitude
Brit-born singer Julia Fordham came to fame in the 80s and, with a vocal range to rival that of her idol Joni Mitchell, she’s maintained a big gay fanbase. Now based in the States, she sells out shows whenever she returns to these shores and, as she tells Attitude, her new single is all about gay marriage….
You’re playing sold-out shows UK shows this August. What can fans expect this time round?
I was there recently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Porcelain album and I want to continue the good chord we struck because I was feeling the love, what can I tell you? But it’s a stripped-down show, just me and Grant [Mitchell, her accompanist], rather than with a band, and it’ll be more of a mixed bag: Requests, favourites, hits, much more casual and jumbled.
When did you realise you had so many gay fans?
That’s a very good question. At the time of the first album I did an interview where I defended the gay community and they just knew I was on their side. There were also a lot of questions about whether or not I was gay because I had the really short hair. I was very influenced by the dancer and choreographer Lloyd Newson of the DV8 Physical Theatre group. Lloyd is gay and he said to me ‘It would be a wonderful gift to the community if you don’t make a big deal of going “Oh no, I’m not gay” and just don’t say anything.” That made such sense to me at the time. He was such a voice for the gay community and he really influenced me.
Have you always embraced the gay fanbase?
Always. I remember when I first heard a homophobic comment. I was five years old and in the school playground. A boy cried or something and another boy called him ‘Homo” and I asked what that meant. The kid said ‘He’s a homo, he likes other boys’ and I swear to you I said ‘Well, what’s wrong with that?’ That’s what I knew to be true. I remember looking around the playground thinking ‘Why would we all be the same?’ That’s something I’ve always carried with me.
Your new single Got Your Back is from a film about a same-sex couple, isn’t it?
The film is called Status Unknown and it’s a short film about two women [Caroline and Laurie Hart], one of whom is someone I knew from school who got married but later came out, who met online. She’s English and her girlfriend is American and they had to go through the hoops and loops of not just being a gay couple who want to get married but also an intercontinental couple trying to relocate to America. The film is about how they had to take on, quite literally, the powers-that-be and because of all the recent changes they’ve been able to become completely legal and safe.
On a more trivial note, what’s the campest thing you’ve ever done? Being a backing singer for Mari Wilson maybe?
Yes, it’d be the outfit I wore during my Mari Wilson gig days. I had a sort of 50s/60s look with teased hair and we got to dress up in vintage clothing. The whole thing was spectacularly kitsch and camp.
You’re mates with Tracey Ullman. What is she like?
She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I don’t know if you’ve met many comedians but they’re often truly not that funny. But I’ll tell you how funny Tracey is: If I’m doing a show I can’t see her the day of a gig or even the day before because she will make you laugh so hard your face will hurt. She can do any impersonation of anyone and she’s a truly funny, smart, exceptionally gifted person.
Your voice has been compared, very favourably, with the legendary Joni Mitchell. Have you ever met her?
Yes, I had a spectacular meeting with Joni Mitchell when she came to London for her own art exhibition. She literally bumped into me, looked at me as if to say ‘Who are you?’ so I jumped right in and introduced myself. She went ‘Oh, I know you, my husband loves you, you must come and meet him’. She takes me by the hand and whisks me off to meet Larry Klein and I end up getting invited to her house to record my fourth album Falling Forward. She also came to my house once and that’s one of my most hilarious stories – that my favourite living icon was smoking pot in my garden and got all the neighbours hooked on chain-smoking instantaneously.
You’ve duetted on stage with Michael Ball. How was he?
Michael Ball is fantastic. He is larger than life, warm, friendly, outgoing and big-hearted. Everything about him is big – big laugh, big voice, big enthusiasm, big love and witty as hell. That man will send an email that will make you cry with laughter.
Weren’t you once in talks to work with David Lynch?
Yes, that’s true. I met David Lynch because he loved Happy Ever After from my first album and he contacted the record company to arrange a meeting. It was one of those surreal moments: ‘Am I really sitting in an LA restaurant having lunch with my favourite film director?’ He said he wanted to do something but I didn’t know what that would be, then 20 years go by and I see him again at a party. He calls me ‘Happy Ever After’ so he exclaims ‘Hey, Happy Ever After!’ and invites me to his house. I went over, played him some music, he listened very intently, said how much he loved my voice and I don’t know why nothing has happened since. But I’m not proactive with those things but ‘flattered’ is way too light of a word to use when saying I got to meet David Lynch.
You’re known for your wacky sense of humour. Has it ever gotten you into trouble?
[Laughs] Yeah, all the time. Oh my goodness, I can’t say what or why because they’ll come back to haunt me.
What’s been your biggest on-stage gaffe?
Again, there’s just so many. Introducing the wrong person, going into the wrong song… So, so many.
Got Your Back is available now on iTunes. For Julia Fordham tour dates and news visit juliafordham.com.Words by SIMON BUTTON.