internet sourced photo of Jimmy Somerville and link to his official website

Hear our interview with Jimmy Somerville 8am 1st December 2005 by John Frame for Queer Radio, on 4ZZZfm Brisbane and for This Way Out, Los Angeles

Recorded (using a mix of Skype and a separate lapel mic) by phone from Jimmy’s home in London.  While doing the dishes (seriously) Jimmy chats upfront and personal about his more recent album “Home Again” and topics ranging from his own experience of the age of consent to his view on same sex civil unions. He was also excited about being booked to perform at shows in Sydney and Melbourne for 24 February and 2 March 2006. These spectaculars titled “Evolve” were designed especially for Jimmy by producer Colin Tate. Colin says it was a way of paying homage and giving back for the empowerment Jimmy‘s honesty and music gave to his own life. The shows included full versions of hits from Bronski Beat and The Communards, as well his solo hit singles – and also featured an acoustic set with backing from the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir and the Melbourne Gay & Lesbian Chorus. The Sydney show was part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. NB: While in Australia Jimmy joined talented local musicians in a rural Sydney studio to record the beautiful acoustic stylings of his personal all-time favourite songs, which were released in June 2009 as the download-only album “Suddenly Last Summer”.

Jimmy Somerville 21st December 2005 (21 minutes, 128kps stereo,  21mb mp3)

 

Interview Transcript - unabridged

(Queensland Pride Magazine’s Editor Iain Clacher re-edited this as a cover story feature for their February 2006 edition).

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Total edited interview 22 minutes):

 

(0:00)

JS:     Hello

 

JF:     Hello Jimmy, it’s John Frame here. How are you?

 

JS:     I’m fine thank you very much.

 

JF:     Thank you for giving us this time because I know that you’re a very busy man.

 

JS:     That’s no problem. That’s cool, I’m not too busy this evening. I knew I was doing this – I’ve just been doing my dishes.  I’m serious actually (washing up sounds are clearly audible).

 

(0:30)

JF:     That’s alright – OK, well, Jimmy Somerville welcome to Queer Radio on 4ZZZ in Brisbane and to This Way Out the international lesbian and gay radio magazine.

 

JS:     Thank You.

 

(0:40)

JF:     It’s good to hear that you’re coming back to Australia.

 

JS:     Yeah, I’m looking forward to it – it’s going to be fun. It’s been a good few years, so it’ll be fun to be down under again.

 

(0:48)

JF:     Because you have appeared at the Mardi Gras Dance Party at least once…

 

JS:     I’ve done that once yeah, and then the last time I was there was for the opening of the Gay Games. That was good fun – that was a really great evening.

 

(1:07)

JF:     Of course that featured Australian artists such as Paul Capsis as well. Of particular interest for this is that it’s a gala show – it’s not Jimmy Somerville doing a twenty minute set…

 

JS:     No – it’s almost like a kind of gay revue – with various people on, it’s kind of fun. I know it’s called a gala but I keep thinking of it as more like an old time revue, so it’s more like it’s entertainment and I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be cool.

 

(1:46)

JF:    The host will be Bob Downe – are you a good friend of Mark Trevorrow?

 

JS:     I’m not a good friend, but I do know him. I would know him well enough to feel comfortable in his company and chat with him and hang out with him. He’s cool.

 

(2:08)

JF:     Because for yourself you’re one of, if not THE, most famous openly gay musician in the world, Bob Downe could be one of the most famous gay characters, certainly in Australia, but he is well known in the UK…

 

JS:     Yeah – he is known here. He’s got a good following here.  I think he works really hard in getting himself around here and getting known.

 

(2:33)

JF:     I spoke with Mark a few years ago and he said that he thought it was really strange that his character Bob Downe was assumed to be gay, and yet when he started to speak as a gay man himself he found it really hard for people to take him seriously, he had to actually tell media “I am also a gay man”.

 

JS:     Yeah, I think that’s the trouble, if ever you do characters, and especially if you do comedy, the media and public do get confused with your character and real life. The best example for that is soap operas.  So many people really believe in the character of the soap opera, and when they see these people in the street or in real life they actually think that this person has, kind of like, buried their grandmother in the patio or something – and it’s like “No, I’m just acting in my character”.

 

(3:25)

JF:     In that respect Jake Gyllenhaal from Brokeback Mountain, who plays Jack Twist, made a fine statement that, while he hasn’t ever found a man sexually attractive, he wouldn’t be scared if he found it was happening…

 

JS:     I’m so excited about that movie coming out. I’ve read the book and I think it’s such a great story. It’s just so fantastic, I can’t wait.

 

(3:55)

JF:     Do you think that it matters that the film has a straight director and two straight lead actors?

 

JS:     Not at all – I just think as long as it’s well acted and as long as they put their heart and soul into it and they believe in these characters, and they actually believe in what they’re doing, then I think that’s all that matters really. Because in the end it’s like if there was two gay actors that might have been ideal for the part and could have played the part well, then fair enough – but if those guys weren’t around then you just work with the best, or you work with what you think is good. I just think that’s fine by me.

 

(4:35)

JF:     In terms of the persona that you present on stage, I heard an interview with Antony Hegarty from Antony & The Johnsons and Antony said that when he did his first big show in London, when the Johnsons became popular, he felt really very self-conscious – because here he was, this big gay character on stage - and he didn’t know if the audience trusted that he could be that and be accepted. But for yourself, have you ever felt that you had to be anything less than all of who you are on stage?

 

JS:     If anything it’s so difficult for me to present on stage  who I am – because especially, from the very beginning, of how I’ve looked and my size and, especially in the very early days,  my boyishness – my boyish face and boyish stature and stuff.  It was very difficult for me to get over to people that under my t-shirt there wasn’t a pair of wings as some kind of little angel, you know?  It was very difficult to put that across. It was almost as if people would read things about me, and then they would look at me and say “Yeah, but he probably doesn’t do that. He’s so sweet” – that kind of thing, so it’s really difficult. If anything I’m just the opposite – I’m trying constantly to show people that I really I am a whore – look, I really am.

 

(6:04)

JF:     Most of your music is about love, but it deals with the realities of love – as in love found and lost and struggle.

 

JS:     Yeah.

 

JF:     I would imagine that you would have a whole swag of songs that would be ideal if you were the guest vocalist at a gay civil union. Have you been asked to do this in the UK yet?

 

JS:     No. Actually just before you called I was watching the news, because the first one was in Ireland yesterday and then the first one was in Scotland today. It’s an historic moment and a great thing, but for me it’s just a frustrating thing because I really don’t want to be aping heterosexuality. I don’t want gays and lesbians to be saying “look, we should be allowed to get married as well”, because I just don’t think, in the twenty first century, that marriage really should be something that we’re trying to hold on to. As with heterosexuals AND gays and lesbians, I just think we should be moving towards unions that are partnerships, but really getting away from marriage and the whole connection to the church and the state etc.

 

I was talking to two guys I know who’ve been together for twenty years, and Dieter says “I love this guy, but that’s between me and him. I don’t want to run around celebrating it in such a way. It’s between us”.

 

So I think people have different opinions about it, and mine is very much that I don’t want it, but civil partnership rights are so important because it should be the same rights and it should be the same recognition. Everything that you build together and have together should be automatically passed on to your partner, that’s how it’s going to be. And if you enter into that partnership and it becomes legal and binding, that’s really important – but just drop this wedding nonsense. There we go!!

 

(8:14)

JF:     In the liner notes for your most recent album “Home Again” which came out November 2004 you make the little comment, after thanking a few people, “Oh – and thank god I’m an atheist!” That doesn’t mean that you’re not a spiritual person though does it?

 

JS:     No - I’m kind of annoyed now that I put “atheist”, because in some sense that’s me saying that I actually don’t believe in something that, kind of, exists – I should have found some other expression. But in a sense I’m not a spiritual person, because in a sense again it’s like trying to find other words to express it, and other meanings and so, in the end, I’m just a believer. I’m just a believer in people – I’m just a believer in emotions.

 

I’m such a believer in people that if someone was to, kind of like bash me over the head, and then came back and bashed me over the head again – I would still believe that there is something good in that person, and that the person is good, deep down. So I really do believe in people. I just think that if you do stop believing, and if you stop having some kind of passion and compassion, then you just may as well give up.

 

(9:39)

JF:     Mark Trevorrow earlier this year said that now that he’s moving towards fifty…

 

JS:     I’m going to be 45 in June, so I’m not far off it.

 

JF:     OK – but Mark says that he feels that he’s going through some sort of an evolution – he feels it happening. Are you still the same person you were when you were sixteen?

 

JS:     Oh definitely not. I’m not such an idealist as I was - and in some senses I know that I wasted so much energy into being an idealist when I was younger. So I don’t waste my energy on that any more, but I just put a lot of my energies into just kind of believing and just being positive, and still having my principles.

 

(10:44)

JF:     Now going back to potentially you at age sixteen, would you, for example, have been the sort of young man who would have been likely to have engaged in anal intercourse, if that was on offer at age sixteen?

 

JS:     God! At age sixteen? By the time I was fifteen I’d realised at the bus station that if I actually sucked men off I could get five pounds - which meant I could go and buy two albums. So by that time I was running a business really - I was building my record collection at that point. So yeah, at sixteen there was no tricks I didn’t know, that’s for sure. 

 

(11:23)

JF:     The first Bronski Beat album was “Age Of Consent” and in Queensland we’re the only state in Australia that has an age of consent that’s higher for anal intercourse than for any other sexual activity. It’s eighteen instead of sixteen for everything else. Do you see any sense in that?

 

JS:     No, it’s crazy really isn’t it? You just know that in some senses that these laws are really influenced by religion – in Biblical terms – that’s where most of these laws come from. It’s the same in certain states in the United States as well, that kind of thing – it’s just so influenced for Biblical reasons - and again it’s got no place in the twenty first century.

 

But that definitely is an uphill kind of battle, because those people, again, they are Real Believers and they believe in what they believe in, and so you really do have a battle on your hands.

 

(12:26)

JF:     As far as videos go, there was a fine VHS collection of Bronski Beat, Communards, Jimmy Somerville early stuff, but “Smalltown Boy” was a ground breaking video. We saw a German made series of documentaries on Sex & Pop and in that you are talking, perhaps in response to Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters saying what a great video that was - how significant it was.

 

JS:     Definitely, because in that time in the eighties pop bands were making very kind of pompous, overblown and very expensive pop videos – and it was all about affluence. The early eighties was a time of just being a bit kind of flash really – and in the end this song couldn’t be anything else but a narrative and it had to tell a story, and in some senses it was great because it turned out to be such a universal kind of story in the video also. Because there is a part in the swimming pool where I’m looking at the guy, because I’m just so kind of like - I could be cruising him, but I could also just be idolising him - that kind of thing. So it could be taken whichever way, but in some sense it was so obviously gay because we were OPENLY gay, but I think the success of the song and of the video was that it was just so universal.

 

(14:04)

JF:     Of course there have been a number of excellent videos for your own solo work in recent years – is there a chance that they will ever be made available to the public?

 

JS:     I’m not really sure – it’s really difficult. But there was one video that was made by this guy called Bart Fischer. He was doing film studies at a University in Los Angeles and he was the first one to use a pop video for his final film – and he done a video of a song called “Here I Am” and it’s a really great video. It’s a very passionate video – it’s really cool. He won an award for it recently too.

 

(14:57)

JF:     Your most recent album “Home Again” – when I listened through to it I thought that, for me, immediately “It’s So Good” was a stand-out song. I just loved the way it sounded, the whole feel of it, but it was great to see that Paul Mac was the co-writer and producer…

 

JS:     Yeah, that was fun. We spent a few days in Sydney, just hanging out and it was really cool and just kind of writing this track. It was really great. It was good fun.

 

(15:22)

JF:     Are you happy with this whole album – because with the previous one you even had trouble getting one of the singles played on radio?

 

JS:     Oh, with this album it’s just been a nightmare – BMG Germany picked it up and the single didn’t do well and so, the usual record company thing, they just kind of like dropped it. So that was it, there wasn’t going to be any more work done on it, there wasn’t going to be any more promotion on it. So in a sense the album’s just disappeared really – it’s just died.

 

Well you have to take these things with a pinch of salt really, ‘cause there’s just nothing you can do – it’s like one person against a major label, it’s just “forget it”. So you just have to pick yourself up and dust yourself down, so to speak.

 

(16:08)

JF:     But can you making a living then by “word of mouth”, by having a strong personal fan base?

 

JS:     Kind of, but a great thing is that I do a lot of work in Germany and Europe and do lots of club stuff and lots of festivals – and, in summer, lots of radio festivals over Europe. It’s great because people book it. I’ve been relying on that – that’s been my income for about the last ten or twelve years and its incredible because the promoters originally booked, of course, thinking “well this is just going to be Jimmy Somerville – a bit of retro stuff”, but suddenly they realise when they hear me singing live, it’s like “of course this man has grown and his voice has grown” and then they book us again for the next one.

 

I’ve just done all the radio shows in Germany and some in Italy this year and most of the festivals have asked us back next year, so it’s kinda cool. I’m very lucky in that respect because a lot of my contemporaries have just disappeared and really have nothing to rely on, in a sense.

 

(17:21)

JF:     It’s people giving back what you’ve given them in the past though. Like the promoter of these shows in Sydney and Melbourne in February and March next year, Colin Tate. He writes that “Jimmy gave his music to me as a lone country boy, and it was a way of accepting my own sexuality”. So it’s great then that he can help produce a spectacular show that gives you the featuring that you have always deserved.

 

JS:     It’s great – just how it’s gonna be run. Just to be singing with the choir, and they’re going to organise an acoustic band for me. There’s going to be about thirty five minutes of short acoustic songs. Some songs are from the albums - like “For A Friend” and “By Your Side” and also “Selfish Days” from “Home Again”.

 

And then also I’m gonna do a few kind of “old favourites” – things like “This Guy’s In Love With You” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, those kind of things. Old standards that are usually always sung by women - so by me singing them it just turns the whole element of the lust song around. So I’m really looking forward to that – and it’s just great that there’s going to be an acoustic set.

 

(18:45)

JF:     A final question: Since the last time I spoke with you, which was in February ’98, we’ve had people like Elton John properly come out to the world, George Michael sort of got exposed to the world, but more importantly we’ve had some young men from boy bands come out and actually pre-empt the press and say “I’m gay, I’m happy and in fact I’m in love”…

 

JS:     Sadly, sadly most of the young ones from the boy bands didn’t really pre-empt the press. Basically what had to happen was the press were saying “You know what, if you don’t do it – we’ll do it. So how do you want to do it? Do you want to do it and come out and be proud? Or do you want us to just print one of those mucky stories in the paper?”

 

So in some sense they had to do it, and in some senses the journalists and the press by doing that, I just think it’s kind of like a twisted politics in there. It’s almost like saying “Don’t play these games with the public – you either are or you’re not. Get on with it.” And I kinda like that in a kind of twisted way.

 

Because in the end it is just “Don’t play games with the public”. You know, they couldn’t give a fuck - just as long as you’re possibly entertaining them and you’re good at what you do. Then, you know, they will just let you get on with it really.

 

In the end it’s to yourself as well - because it just messes your own mind and you just end up being a very fucked up and unhappy person - and may STILL be a fucked up and unhappy person when you come out, but at least you know you’ve got the option and you know, maybe, what the difference will be.

 

(20:30)

JF:     Jimmy Somerville, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. This has been John Frame on behalf of Queer Radio on Four Triple Zed in Brisbane and on behalf of This Way Out, the international lesbian and gay radio magazine in Los Angeles. Now, you have a safe trip and a great tour – we look forward to seeing you.

 

JS:     I shall do – thank you very much.

 

 (20:48)

JF:     So that’s all OK with you Jimmy?

 

JS:     Cool, yeah great.

 

JF:     And once again thanks for all your time – have a great day.

 

JS:     No problem, cool - well actually it’s half past ten in the evening for me now, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and then bed.

 

JF:     Have a nice lie down.

 

JS:     Have a nice day – bye.

 

JF:     Sweet dreams, bye bye.

 

(ends)…………………………………………………………..

 

John Frame jvframe@ozemail.com.au
presenter of Queer Radio www.queerradio.org
on community radio 4ZZZ fm102.1 Brisbane, Australia
Ph: 07 3350 1562 / 0409 501 561
Post: 82 Main Avenue, Wavell Heights 4012, QLD, Australia.

 

----"There is no substitute for equality"----