Category Archives: Interview

ROWETTA

HACIENDA CLASSICAL IS THE NEW PROJECT FROM PETER HOOK, DJS MIKE PICKERING AND GRAEME PARK AND A CAST OF MANY – ALL OF WHOM WERE INVOLVED WITH THE LEGENDARY MANCHESTER NIGHTCLUB BACK IN ITS 1980S AND 1990S HEYDAY.
A ‘regular’ in Manchester music circles – and at the Hacienda – was Rowetta, more familiar these days as singer in Happy Mondays. In this new interview with The Mouth Magazine Rowetta talks about the Hacienda Classical project ahead of the show at Leeds Arena on 14th April – but she also reflects on Happy Mondays and her 2004 appearance on ITV’s THE X-FACTOR…

AT THE GIGS AND ON THE HACIENDA CLASSICAL ALBUM YOU SING A VERSION OF YOU GOT THE LOVE. I WOULD NEVER HAVE EXPECTED IT TO SOUND QUITE LIKE IT DOES…
To be honest, Peter Hook’s been asking me to sing it for a good few years now, at certain parties and things, but I didn’t want to – I know Candi Staton. Really, I’d kept away from the song ‘cos she’s still about and doing it. Obviously she’s getting on a little bit now and so she doesn’t tour quite as much, although she’s still active – so I didn’t want to just copy it. I said I’d only do the song if it was different than her version. This version with the orchestra is different – I’ve been allowed to do my own interpretation. Because the orchestra was involved now was the time to do it. Hooky, of course, is on bass, and it’s very very different with the orchestra. As a singer, I don’t like the idea of offending other singers. But I’ve got her blessing, which is lovely. And as long as Candi’s happy then, you know, I’m happy too.

IT’S A WONDERFUL TAKE ON IT…
It’s had some great reviews. I do it when I do house nights, and at most gigs now people say “Can you do YOU GOT THE LOVE?”… and people have asked me to sing it at weddings and all sorts! People sing along when I sing it, and they cry when I sing it… They cry in a good way, I mean!

HOW DIFFERENT FOR YOU IS IT SINGING WITH AN ORCHESTRA THAN IT IS WITH A BAND?
Well, I’ve done it quite a lot actually. I sang live with the BBC Philharmonic for Children In Need. I sang with Hooky and The Light with an orchestra. We’ve done quite a few with an orchestra. So I am quite familiar with singing with orchestras, to be honest. But although I’m used to it I do still think it’s really really special. Even if the orchestra is all reading music (if we do it with different orchestras) it always sounds good and it always sounds a little bit different. So all the gigs are not quite the same. I think that’s also got something to do with the audience and the atmosphere.

YOUR VOICE DOES WORK REALLY WELL IN THAT CONTEXT…
Yeah, I love it. It really suits my voice, I think, ‘cos I’ve got a big voice and I’m an emotional singer. With the orchestra I can really feel the music. There’s a lot of spirit. I love it. It’s very very special to me. Real instruments really suit my voice, and I prefer singing with them than I do singing with machines and samples. Working with a band is really special – but there’s nothing like live strings and live brass and live percussion. A 70-piece orchestra and a gospel choir. How can you beat that? It’s phenomenal.

MIKE PICKERING AND GRAEME PARK HAVE CLEARLY PUT A LOT OF EFFORT IN TO MAKE THE HACIENDA CLASSICAL MATERIAL WORK, TO MAKE IT ‘HAPPEN’ IN THIS NEW CONTEXT… I’M FASCINATED BY THE FACT I CAN HEAR NEW THINGS IN SOME OF THESE SONGS…
Almost every show I hear something different, to be honest. Hooky’s up there playing bass, and Graeme’s doing scratching and putting samples in on top of the orchestra. As I say, they play different every night, the orchestra plays different every night, the choir sings different every night, and I sing different every night. It’s quite spontaneous each night and it’s special. A lot of that is to do with the DJs, but we have a conductor as well – Tim Crooks – and he keeps the whole thing together and has a lot to do with the arrangements…

YOU’VE WORKED WITH MIKE AND GRAEME BEFORE…
Yes! I first had a song out with them in 1988 or ’89. They were known as the Dynasty Of Two, and the song was STOP THIS THING. It was one of the first records that I sang on. That record changed my life. Aside from anything else, I got my Hacenda pass ‘cos of working with Mike! So to still be working with them nearly thirty years later is… God… just phenomenal. I’ve known Mike and Graeme and Hooky for so long. I love those guys. I love the fact that we’re still together. They’re just like family.

THE SONGS ON THE ALBUM, AND THE SONGS THE HACIENDA CLASSICAL TEAM PLAY IN CONCERT, ARE ALL THINGS WE MIGHT HAVE HEARD IF WE WERE GOING TO GO CLUBBING AT THE HACIENDA BACK IN THE DAY…
Yeah, there’s a lot of ‘Hacienda history’ there…

IT’S QUITE AN UNLIKELY PROJECT – THAT DANCE HERITAGE SORT OF CRASHING IN TO THE CLASSICAL WORLD…
Peter Hook’s the Executive Producer of the project, and I think it was his idea. There’s a few other projects doing a similar thing, but we’ve been talking about doing this for a while. In the end we’ve done it because the Hacienda means so much to us. It’s more than just a club, to us. It’s a big part of my life, a big part of who I am, and it’s the same for all of us. The fact that a lot of the people who were involved aren’t actually here any more – Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton – means that the Hacienda means so much more. When we go on stage it’s very much about the Hacienda, and Tony and Rob, and Manchester itself – the things we’ve not got anymore. It’s more than just ‘mixing some old tunes to classical music’…

IT MUST HAVE BEEN QUITE A LEAP OF FAITH, THOUGH?
When we first did it, nobody knew whether it’d work or not. We went into this rehearsal room, and it could all have gone terribly wrong – but it was amazing. Everyone was just… buzzing. I got goosebumps I’d never had before – and everybody else was the same. It was, like, “this is definitely special”. There were little tweaks after the first gig, to make things better. That was it really. It was maybe only the first gig where we had to do that, because on this scale it’s so difficult to get the sound right. But they got it right by gig two. We’ve nailed it soundwise – even outdoors. Outdoor gigs are always good…

… AND ALL THE AUDIENCES SO FAR HAVE LOVED THE GIGS…
God, yeah! Wherever we play, it’s just phenomenal seeing all those people raving to classical music! This is one of the best things I’ve ever done, to be honest, because of the audiences. As I said earlier, when I come on and do YOU GOT THE LOVE there’re people in tears. It means so much to ’em – not just that song, really, but the Hacienda itself, and Hacienda music. And, you know, the funny thing is people always say to me “What do I wear for these gigs? Do I wear a ballgown, black tie, or do I come in my rave clothes?” – but it’s a case of wearing whatever you want, to be honest. Sometimes I have a long gown on, a dressing up gown like I’m going on with an orchestra, and other days I might have something I’d wear with Happy Mondays on. You can wear whatever you like. Just be happy and dance and sing.

LOOKING BACK AT THE HACIENDA ITSELF, IT’S ALMOST PERFECT THE WAY THINGS HAPPENED. I’M SURE THOSE WHO HAD A VESTED FINANCIAL INTEREST WOULD DISAGREE – AND HOOKY ACTUALLY WROTE A WHOLE BOOK ABOUT THAT…
Yeah, he did. He did alright in the end, ha ha…

… BUT THE HISTORY OF THE PLACE, THE WAY IT ALL UNFOLDED, IS JUST SO ROMANTIC… I DON’T THINK THE HACIENDA’S IMPORTANCE TO OUR CULTURE OVER THE LAST THIRTY-FIVE YEARS CAN BE OVERSTATED…
No, it can’t. It can’t be overstated. It’s going to be the thirty-fifth anniversary later this year… It is romantic, I suppose, looking back – but the way it ended… Well, it ended so sadly. Even I didn’t want to go in by the end, I really didn’t. It was just this horrible place. Horrible. It’d been taken over by certain people and it just wasn’t the same at all. It wasn’t what we’d known and loved. But… then we did the film TWENTY-FOUR HOUR PARTY PEOPLE which was a tribute to the Hacienda, really – even though it was a comedy – and it reminded us how great the place was…

THAT’S A GREAT FILM, A LOT OF FUN AND A FITTING TRIBUTE…
It is, yeah.I played myself in it. That was a lot of fun. Top director Michael Winterbottom. He’s directed everybody – like, Angelina Jolie and… everybody. For him to come to Manchester to make this film while Tony [Wilson] was still alive was just amazing. It was a celebration and we loved it, but it was a bigger film than we thought. It went massive. We ended up going to Cannes! We were up for a Palme d’Or! So we were in Cannes with the real Tony Wilson sat beside us, and the pretend Happy Mondays and the pretend New Order sat next to the real ones… It was just… mental. I remember my son, when he watched the film, saying “he’s amazing” about Ian Curtis… He’d not been that bothered before that. So there was this whole generation of brand new fans coming up for Factory music and Hacienda music – and they’re just getting a taste of it…

… AND YOU ACTUALLY RECREATED THE HACIENDA? THAT MUST HAVE BEEN SURREAL…
Yeah, we did this pretend night, reincarnated the Hacienda for ‘one night only’… It really brought it back, how fantastic it was. It gave us memories again. I think that’s what the Hacienda Classical nights do for me, as well – they bring it back, and in a really positive way. I can forget about the bad bit at the end. A lot of the people involved back then are involved in this project now, or come to the gigs, so it’s bringing it all back in a positive way. I love the fact that around the world so many people know what the Hacienda was. It’s got so many followers. It’s got followers out in Thailand, and in Japan… Me and Bez from Happy Mondays have gone along with the 808 State lads and some DJs and done things out there, and it’s amazing ‘cos the Hacienda is this massive thing out in these different countries. People love it. It amazes us – even Hooky, who’s seen just about everything.

YOU SANG ATMOSPHERE, THE JOY DIVISION SONG, ON THE FIRST SINGLE FROM PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT, ACTUALLY. I THINK IT WAS ONE OF JOY DIVISION’S FINEST MOMENTS AND THIS NEWER VERSION IS ONE OF YOURS…
Aww, thank you! Yeah I sang that. I never ever get fed up of singing it. I do think ATMOSPHERE is one of the greatest songs ever written. I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs. And Ian Curtis? Well, what a genius… Seriously. What a genius.

A MOMENT AGO YOU MENTIONED HAPPY MONDAYS AND THAT REMINDS ME TO ASK YOU ABOUT THEM, TOO. YOUR FIRST INVOLVEMENT WAS THE SINGLE STEP ON – ANOTHER GREAT SONG… HAD YOU KNOWN THEM FROM THE HACIENDA SCENE?
I used to see them about a little bit, but not really. I just became a fan. I really loved the music. I saw them when they appeared on THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT – Tony Wilson’s TV show. I thought “Oh my God, they’re fantastic”… but, it was “Oh no, that guy who keeps mithering me is in it”. That was Bez. He fancied me and he kept chatting me up – and he was really annoying! So apart from him I thought they were fantastic, the music was fantastic. But I didn’t know them at all, I was just a fan. I used to follow them round. I saw them live and it blew me away. I thought “I’ve got to sing with them”, so I just pestered until they let me.

THAT’S QUITE A WAY IN!
Yeah! I got their manager to come see me at a gig I was doing at Legends, the venue where Happy Mondays filmed the video for WROTE FOR LUCK. It all worked out beautifully ‘cos he came to the gig and said “You’re madder than they are”… A couple of weeks later I got a ‘phone call from Elliott Rashman who was managing me at that time. He was also Simply Red’s manager. He said “Are you sat down?” and I said “No, why?” – and he said “Sit down… The Mondays want you to go sing on this new tune with Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne”… I was, like, “No way”. He said “You’ve got to go to London tomorrow”. I couldn’t believe it. “They’re going to let me sing with ’em?!”… and I’ve not really left since – apart from when we split up (which we’ve done a couple of times, ha ha).

HAPPY MONDAYS HAVE BEEN ‘BACK’ FOR A WHILE, NOW… 
… Yeah, for about four years or something. Bez does quite a lot of these Hacienda Classical gigs with me. Shaun [Ryder] does the odd one. The Mondays are doing great and Hacienda Classical is doing great, so that takes up all my time. That’s amazing. I love it…

… AND THERE’S A MONDAYS TOUR LATER THIS YEAR…
We did PILLS ‘N’ THRILLS AND BELLYACHES two years ago, so this one’s the thirtieth anniversary of SQUIRREL AND G-MAN… A sort of celebration that the band’s first album came out about thirty years ago.

HOW DIFFERENT IS IT THESE DAYS TO BACK IN THE DAY? SHAUN GUESTED ON A PODCAST HERE AT THE MOUTH MAGAZINE A WHILE AGO, AND HE SAID SOMETHING THAT BROKE MY HEART A LITTLE BIT. HE SAID HE GOT OFF HIS TITS IN HIS TWENTIES AND THEN SUDDENLY ‘WOKE UP’ ONE DAY AND WAS IN HIS FIFTIES… LIKE, LIFE HAPPENED IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE…
It’s not like that for me ‘cos I wasn’t on the same drugs as Shaun, ha ha… I’ve not got this blur where I can’t remember what went on for the last thirty years. I’ve got children that I had to bring up on my own, so it’s not this big blur at all. But I understand what he meant, there, ‘cos he was on heroin. Now, he’s very very happily married and he’s got two young daughters as well as his other children, so he’s really loving being a dad. To be honest, now he goes back home straight after gigs. So, to me the Mondays is different because the people are different because they’re not addicted to anything. They’ve sorted it all out. People aren’t off their heads – so everybody’s getting along better and the band are playing better. I’m probably the last one out, now. If we do a gig on a Saturday I’m probably the one that doesn’t go home ’til the Monday, ha ha. Bez doesn’t even smoke weed anymore. So we’ve come a long way…

A BIT OF A FLIPPANT QUESTION, PERHAPS… BUT, FOR MANY OUTSIDE OBSERVERS, THE MEMBERS OF AN ORCHESTRA ARE LIKELY TO BE SEVERAL WORLDS APART FROM MUSICIANS FROM ‘A CERTAIN ERA’ OF MANCHESTER BANDS… OR ARE THE ORCHESTRA PLAYERS ACTUALLY PARTY ANIMALS?
Ha ha ha… Not really, they’re not really party animals. But people are people, aren’t they? So, maybe! To be honest, a lot of people are scared of me and they’re scared of the Mondays and they’d walk the other way or cross the road. We can be really lairy and loud – but not all the time… We’re not like that all the time. People are scared of reputations and images, so I think there’s sometimes a bit of that maybe? But I always really make the effort to get along with everybody I work with. I’m always going and giving ’em a cuddle and telling ’em how fantastic they are. After one of these Hacienda Classical shows we’re usually off going to an after-party ‘cos the boys DJ after-parties and I often go with ’em. I sing after gigs, quite a lot. The orchestra might be going off together on their coach or something. Really, if you don’t party when you’re on tour it’s usually to do with travel and transport, to be honest. But I do think it’s better to go to bed after a gig. It’s much much better to go home… It’s just that I’ve not learned to follow my own advice yet!

CAN I ASK YOU ABOUT THE X-FACTOR?
Yeah, of course you can. That’s cool.

YOU APPEARED ON THE FIRST SERIES AS A CONTESTANT. THERE WAS SOMETHING REALLY ENDEARING ABOUT YOU AND, ACTUALLY, SOMETHING TRIUMPHANT – LIKE YOU WERE (AND I MEAN THIS IS THE LEAST PATRONISING WAY POSSIBLE) ONE OF LIFE’S GREAT SURVIVORS. 
Aww, thank you darling. Thank you. Do you know what? I went to Leeds and auditioned and I didn’t tell anyone I was going. Everyone would have said “Rowetta, don’t do it”… But I do what I want. I think going on that was one of the most punk things I’ve ever done. I did worry that my friends would think it wasn’t cool, but I got on the train to Leeds and by the point of the audition I just didn’t care. My Grandma wanted me to be famous and she wanted me to be successful – and, in her eyes, singing with the Mondays wasn’t appealing or entertaining at all. She didn’t ‘get’ Happy Mondays and she didn’t ‘get’ house music. She just thought I was wasted. She thought I was better or different than that. When she passed away I’d been on the telly and I’d been in the papers, all her friends knew who I was and they’d all heard my voice. Me singing SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW and stuff like that properly ‘did it’ for my Grandma… She was the proudest Grandma. It made her happy so that made me happy. My children can sing but they’ve not got it in them to want to sing or to need to sing like I do… I’m so glad I did it, for my Grandma. You always have your own reasons for doing things, don’t you?

YOU DO… AND I’M GLAD YOUR REASON WASN’T TO MEET SIMON COWELL…
Ha ha, well I enjoyed meeting him actually! I had a laugh with him. I wouldn’t advise people to do THE X-FACTOR, to be honest – but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, I suppose. It was 2004, my Uncle Michael had died and I’d been looking after him. I was in a place where I definitely wasn’t singing enough and I needed to sing. A singer needs to sing. I wasn’t singing and I didn’t know how to get back into it. I didn’t expect to do as well as I did. I was singing songs I wasn’t at all comfortable with, which was amazing actually. It was right out of my comfort zone so it was a challenge. I asked if I could sing STOP CRYING YOUR HEART OUT [Oasis] and Simon said “That stuff doesn’t work for this show”. Nowadays you can do songs like that, more punky tunes, but it was a different show back then, really. I was in Simon’s group and, back then, it was about his taste in music. Most of it was ‘big gay icon’ songs. I only said “no” to a Celine Dion song. Everything else I just did it.  I think of myself more as a punk, and I’m good at singing house music, and so… it was hard work. It made me feel good, and it gave me a load of confidence that had been missing. I was 38 but, some of it, I felt like I was about 58. Now I feel younger again ‘cos I’m back doing music that’s a lot more ‘me’…

I THOUGHT YOU WERE GREAT. IT WAS ENTERTAINING – AND, LIKE I SAID BEFORE, IT WAS ENDEARING TO SEE YOU KICKING AGAINST LIFE ‘BEATING’ YOU…
Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s funny, actually – people think I was dead drunk on that first one, but I wasn’t. I don’t get dead dead drunk. I’d actually stopped smoking so I had nicotine patches all down my leg and it proper sent me on a funny turn. I’m lively, but I’m not that lively, ha ha. I’d completely lost my mind. I couldn’t remember the words, I couldn’t even remember what song I was singing. Everything was a blur. Then I walked out and I thought I’d not got through, and I’d left my handbag in there and… ha ha, it was a blur. But people remembered me – so it worked for me! I’d get people going “There’s that mad girl off the telly” all the time. I just thought “Wait ’til you see the Boot Camp bit, or the live bits, then you’ll see that I can really sing”. Singing live is my thing, really. But on THE X-FACTOR is was just the songs. Quite often I’d think “Do I have to do that” – but I enjoyed those challenges, in the end…

FROM THAT FIRST AUDITION IN LEEDS TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW… QUITE A JOURNEY, EH? HACIENDA CLASSICAL IS PLAYING LEEDS NEXT WEEK, ACTUALLY…
Yeah! Leeds is our first one of the year with the new set, to be honest. We’re going to have two massive rehearsals to make sure we get everything right with this new set. At Leeds I’m not gonna wear my Manchester United top this time, though – I’ll probably just wear a lovely Hacienda dress or something. I promise I won’t do anything Manchester United this time – ‘cos I wore a United shirt at the last Happy Mondays gig in Leeds – and a few people booed. I said “Don’t you boo me! Don’t boo me or I’ll leave the stage”, ha ha…  I dunno. I might wear some United knickers, though. What do you think?

Tickets to HACIENDA CLASSICAL at Leeds Arena on Friday 14th April here