On board with Sharleen

Photo: Julian Broad

A favourite with the LGBT+ community Sharleen Spiteri of Texas talks to Cary Gee about her music, hanging around with Thierry Henry and why equal marriage is so important

It’s been almost thirty years since the sliding guitars and deep southern rhythms of I Don’t Want a Lover slithered into the top ten. Since then, Sharleen Spiteri, with her band Texas have gone on to sell 35m records, including seven top ten albums, three of which entered the charts at Number One, and 13 top ten singles. By now you’d probably better revise those figures upwards. Texas is back, and sounding better than ever on new release Jump on Board.

Did frontwoman, the delectable singer and songwriter Sharleen Spiteri, who’s just arrived home in London after shooting a video in her native Scotland, ever imagine that three decades later she’d still be here to write another chapter in her, and the band’s, extraordinary story?

“God. I don’t think anyone ever thinks that far down the line do they? It is quite extraordinary. I feel very proud, and pretty damn honoured to have had so long. That and the fact that we still love it so much.”

Not that Sharleen enjoys the actual business of being a pop star.

“I don’t enjoy that at all. I enjoy making music, I enjoy being on stage and performing live. It’s about what I’m able to create with my band. That’s what I love.”

Sharleen says that “when you’ve got music in your DNA, what’s gone in will come back out.”

I ask her what has gone in, and what’s come out on Jump on Board?

“So much goes in. You don’t realise you’re storing things up. Then suddenly your mind accesses certain points and emotions. At certain points in your life you decide you are ready to let them out. To show that side of you. I think when you’re younger you are a lot more guarded about what you’re prepared to let people see.”

Sharleen is not talking simply about musical references. “I’m talking more lyrically, about emotions. But yes, Texas has always referenced different styles of music.”

Texas has never followed a set-pattern when it comes to making an album. “It’s always different. Myself and Johnny (McElhone), my songwriter partner in Texas, write most of the music together and then introduce the songs to the others.”

Can a songwriter listen to other people’s music when they are in the studio recording or do outside influences prove a distraction?

“To be honest with you it’s sometimes nice just to switch off and listen to somebody else. Even just having the radio on in the background can add a certain clarity, and prevent you from you getting too bogged down in your own stuff. I’m pretty much always listening to music. Even during the school run in the morning the radio’s always on.”

Sharleen’s daughter is now 14 years old. Is she a fan? “She’s a proper ‘K’ pop girl. That’s what she listens to and enjoys. You’ve got to allow your kid to do their own thing and find their own way. But she does take pride in what I do, in my work ethic and the fact that I take what I do seriously. Hopefully that will pass onto her.”

Unusually in this day and age Jump on Board features just ten tracks. Was it a deliberate decision to opt for quality over quantity?

“We always try and go for quality. For me it’s always a conscious decision to have an ‘A’ side and a ‘B’ side. We really wanted to create that feeling and to keep the album nice and short.”

Texas is perhaps one of the few pure pop rock bands to have endured in an ever-changing musical landscape. Is making music simply a means of escape for Sharleen?

“For me it’s a way of escaping. It’s also the one way I know how to communicate because I’m not very good at it any other way.” This sounds a little disingenuous coming from a woman who clearly communicates with clarity and great thoughtfulness.

In the video for single Let’s Work it Out, a coruscating 70s inspired disco floor-filler, Sharleen is driven about town in the company of a rather familiar, not to say, incredibly handsome date. Who is he and how did he come to be in her video?

She laughs. “You mean Thierry Henry? Thierry is one of my oldest and best friends. We happened to be sitting in his kitchen having lunch together. I played him the song and he loved the whole Soul Train feel to it. So I said, ‘Great. Why don’t you be in the video?’”

Is Henry a good mover? “Yeah, but I didn’t let him dance in the video ‘cos I didn’t want him to outshine me!”

Given that Sharleen is shown dancing up a storm in a dress and a pair of gold strappy sandals it seems unlikely that anyone could have outshone her. It also seems unlikely that she herself has ever danced in those sandals, but she corrects me immediately. “I actually wore my little Gucci sandals and that very same dress to a party a few weeks before I wore them in the video!”

Sharleen is well aware that she has a legion of LGBT+ fans, boys as well as girls. It’s no coincidence that her song So Called Friend appeared in the titles to Ellen DeGeneres’ eponymous sitcom. But which came the first? Were the LGBT+ fans already present before she got the call from Ellen, or did appearing in the show expose her and her music to a whole new fan base?

“I think the gay following has always been with us which is great. And then it grew even larger after we appeared on Ellen.”

Did she ever deliberately set out to cultivate that market? “I don’t think you ever set out to cultivate any specific market. You do what you do and hope as many people out there as possible will like it.”

Spiteri was also a very vocal supporter of equal marriage, particularly in Scotland. She even recorded and uploaded a video calling for equal marriage legislation. Why was this issue of such importance to her?

“Because love is important. Relationships and trust are important. I think it’s a basic human right.” Since then Sharleen has not just been to a gay wedding. She went to the gay wedding. “I was at Elton and David’s!”

Did she feel a responsibility as a celebrity to make her views on equal marriage known?

“I was asked if I’d be interested in voicing my opinion. I was honoured to be asked, honoured that my voice and opinion was considered valid. I was badly bullied at school as a teenager. I don’t like bullies. I feel that human beings should be equal in all things.”

Having been one of the most famous faces in music for so long, a face that was immortalised by photographer Juergen Teller on the cover of multi-million selling album White on Blonde, it’s no surprise that Sharleen has occasionally received the attention of “serial-fan”, fans who think nothing of displaying their adulation in screamingly inappropriate ways.

“I’ve always had fans like that. It can be a little bit crazy at times. One fan sent us heroin through the post! That wasn’t so good. Yeah, we’ve had many strange bits and pieces sent to us over the years.”

This summer sees Texas embarking on a tour of the UK and Europe. Can fans expect to be treated to a few old favourites as well as songs from the brilliant new album?

“You’ve got to play a good mix-up. It’s important to entertain people. To give them a great time. Not just to ram something down their throats before they even know it.”

Doesn’t Sharleen ever tire of singing the same old songs? “No. I like our old songs!’ It’s not like I listen to them at any other point. Sometimes I don’t play one for a few years. Then I’ll decide ‘let’s add this one in.’”

Does she have a personal favourite? ‘”t depends on my mood. But I always play Say What You Want, and I love Inner Smile. Sometimes you go back to something like I Don’t Want a Lover, I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved since that song, and look back on it really fondly.”

After thirty years in the business does Sharleen believe she is a better singer and performer than when she first recorded the song back in 1989? “Yes. Definitely!”

The tour started in Glasgow. Is there a special frisson to singing in her hometown? “There’s always so much expected of you. People think, ‘You’ve been away, let’s see what you’ve got. But it’s always good.”

Glasgow’s burgeoning LGBT+ scene has been described as one of the friendliest in Europe. When did Sharleen last visit it?

“I’ve lived in London for 25 years but I used to be a hairdresser in Glasgow so trust me, I’ve spent most of my years in gay clubs!’ The last time I went out gay clubbing was about four months ago. But I was wearing a suit, not my strappy sandals!”

Given the multi-platinum discs that Sharleen and Texas have been awarded over the years it’s unlikely that she’ll ever need a day job, but does she still have her scissors, just in case it all goes down the pan?

“I still cut my own hair a lot. I cut my daughter’s hair, I cut my partner’s hair. I still have my scissors and I haven’t lost my touch.”

When I dare ask when she last had a celebrity meltdown she feigns not to know what I mean. Then I realise that she actually doesn’t know what I mean. Such behaviour would be anathema to this most grounded of superstars.

“I don’t see myself as a celebrity, or put up with that bullshit! If I ever see someone behaving like that I think ‘what a wanker’.”

A perfect night in for Sharleen “starts at lunch, with my family, my friends and their families, and goes on through the early hours.”

And a perfect night out? “Me and my girls, and my little gold shoes!”