Friday 22 Aug 2014
Lulu talks to BBC Press Information's Tony Matthews about her new BBC One Daytime show Rewind The 60s
Mod targets, Minis (skirts and cars), flower power ... the Sixties, says Lulu, is a decade that you can immediately visualise. "I think, more than any other, it had a look," she says. "It was a revolution."
As a singer, actress and television presenter, the eternally bubbly and energetic Lulu remains one of Britain's most popular stars, and she is back on BBC One Daytime from November 15 to host Rewind The 60s, a week-long series of tributes to, and reflections on, the decade that never seems to go away.
"I did get tired of it," Lulu agrees, reflecting on the seminal era which began 50 years ago. "I wasn't tired of the Sixties so much as people referring back to it. I was wary of getting trapped in it, but this is different because it's way down the line. Had I been asked to do this in the Seventies or Eighties, I'd have said 'no, I've moved on', but recently I've begun to look at just how amazing that era was. I had some sense of it while it was happening, but only in retrospect do I get a measure of what it was. At the time I was head down, blinkers on, focused on my career, vigilant, disciplined. I loved it, but it was scary – I was very young and it was a whirlwind."
Rewind The 60s combines the memories of guest contributors with personal contributions from members of the public and some remarkable archive footage looking not just at the music and entertainment which so defines the decade but also the huge social changes that were taking place.
"On one level it's a fun show," says Lulu "I meet Jimmy Tarbuck, Bill Roache from Coronation Street, Tony Blackburn, actor Oliver Tobias, TV presenter John Craven and designer Zandra Rhodes – but it's also a series that has a heart and an awareness of the issues of the day – so I also talk to a woman discussing how impactful the changes in the abortion act were, and a couple who moved here from India talking about how they integrated into the community, and we feature a survivor of the Aberfan disaster."
And yet the start of the Sixties was a contradictory time. Britain still had an empire and the victories of the Second World War were fresh in the memory but, for many working people, conditions were tough. "They had a lot of fight in them," says Lulu. "After the two wars there was a certain amount of pride, drive and gratitude that we got through it. As you get to the Sixties there was an urge to rebuild and a real sense of unity. There were new opportunities and tremendous excitement."
Was she conscious of the enormous political and social changes going on at the time? "I wasn't really political as a teenager; I was 15 in 1964 and still in the mode where grown-ups took care of all that. My focus was on singing. Even after I made the film To Sir With Love [with Sidney Poitier], it was only much later that I realised what a political statement it was and how it could never have been made in the US at that time."
Like The Beatles in Liverpool, The Rolling Stones in London and The Animals in Newcastle, Lulu's early days in Glasgow were influenced by imported soul and R&B records. "For me, it was all about American music, I thought British music was rubbish," she stresses. "I liked Ray Charles, the Stax sound and of course Shout [her breakthrough hit] came from the Isley Brothers. I was very young but I'd hear the older guys playing in the clubs and I got all that music. I was in a group at 13 and, within a year, in 1963, I'd made a record."
A singer from the age of three, she was accustomed to winning talent competitions as a child before moving on to sing in clubs and US air bases. She was frequently told by admirers that she would become a star, but says it all "went in one ear and out the other". Her parents were supportive but not pushy, but she still finds it amazing that she was allowed to go to London in the care of Marion Massey, who became her agent for the next 25 years. "Marion was a nice woman," she says, "but at 15 it's ridiculous ... when I asked my mother about it she sort of said that she knew it was my destiny."
It was a destiny swiftly realised; as Shout swept up the pop charts, Lulu was carried along on the crest of a wave. "I'd recorded it at 14, but it wasn't allowed to be released until after I was 15. It never seemed real, I knew I could sing but didn't know that there was going to be a revolution. It was hard to take it all in. I just knew I was doing what I loved."
Even now, the achievements she casually reels off sound like the stuff of dreams – she sang on US television for Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson, had her own TV show in Britain and used to "hang out" with The Beatles. "I saw a lot of Ringo and his wife Maureen, Paul and Jane Asher, George and Patti Boyd and John and Cynthia. They made the first British music that ever caught my attention and I got to know them well. As a teenager with all the hormones racing I fancied both John and Paul. I don't think I was overawed, I'd try to look like I was cool and one of them but I wasn't, although not when I sang because I knew I could cut it. I was very opinionated from a musical point of view, I had a real attitude. I was frightened of Mick and Keith from the Stones, although they were always very nice to me. They had a bad boy reputation – I think The Beatles were bad boys too, but didn't look it. I preferred boys who were not too aggressive – I liked Eric Clapton a lot.
"There are a lot of stand-out moments – one of the most incredible was being in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra beckoning to me and going: 'Lulu, this way!' I just thought, 'If my parents could see me now!'"
What is it that drives so many of the greats from that generation, such as Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Tom Jones among many others, and indeed Lulu herself, to continue performing? "It's what you do and you do it because you can," she says. "There are so many of my age really doing it well. Why not, if they've still got the urge and enthusiasm and a love of it?" All her emphasis goes on the word "love" – it's the thing that keeps pushing her to get up on stage.
Performing now, is her preference for the older material with which she made her name? "Shout is one of the greatest R&B songs of all time, I never tire of singing it. It kind of gives you energy and I feel very connected to it, almost married to it. I like that kind of stuff more than a lot of the pop records I made when I was very young."
Modern pop, however, is very much Lulu's thing. Towards the end of November, she will be doing the Here Come The Girls tour with Anastacia and Heather Small. "Last year, we did it with Chaka Khan and we sold out, so we're taking it to bigger arenas this time. It's going to be slightly different, we're paying homage to stuff we've done before but also to young acts. I love new music, I think Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are fantastic, and I think Pink is really great."
Rewinding to the Sixties, Lulu was party to one of its most iconic moments when Jimi Hendrix suddenly took flight at the end of her show, throwing the BBC's ever-careful planning awry with an impromptu version of Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love. "It was great television," she says. "I think he just took it into his head to do it – it was a live show, it was the BBC, and you just didn't do that sort of thing. He apologised afterwards, but you knew that people would be talking about it for ever, you had a sense that it was history in the making."
It's an old adage that if you can remember the Sixties you weren't really there, so what does Lulu remember of that Hendrix moment? "I wish I'd been standing there, but I think I was running off getting changed or something... or was I? Do you know, I don't remember ... I don't know if I was present in the full sense of being present. When things like that happen you're not quite there, if you see what I mean..."
Surely, you can't get much more Sixties than that.
Lulu presents Rewind The 60s, BBC One Daytime from November 15. The series will be followed each afternoon by The Indian Doctor, a new drama set in South Wales in the early Sixties, starring Sanjeev Bhaskar, Mark Williams and Ayesha Dharker.
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