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What’s it all about, Alf?


Alison Moyet has been part of the most successful group of the eighties in Yazoo, but it's made no difference whatsoever to her lifestyle. She still lives in her home town of Basildon, totally unaffected by success.

Now Yazoo have decided to split, even as they’ve raced up the charts with ‘Nobody’s Diary’. But for Alison it’s like starting off on a new career in the same way as other people would change bank jobs. As far as being famous is concerned, her main feeling is one of embarrassment.

“I’ve still got the same crowd of friends and my idea of fun is going down to the pub with them and having a game of pool,” she says.

“I must admit, there was a time when I didn’t want to go out at all, I was so embarrassed. For instance, I was at that Bowie gig and everybody was turning round and saying is that so and so, it was so embarrassing. I felt really uncomfortable. Since I’ve been in Yazoo I’ve had more money to do things that I wouldn’t otherwise have done. But there aren’t any things I really want to do which are different to those I was doing before – except for buying my own place. I lived with my parents before Yazoo formed.”

Looking back on her formative years which led to her joining Yazoo, Alison has an affection for the mates she still hangs around with.

 

HER BACKGROUND was a mixture of pubs, music college and hanging around with the local group of punks. When she got the chance, she’d get up and sing in a local pub … but most of the time she’d exercise her vocal chords with a couple of mates in the local car park.

“The punks I hung around with were all concidered social misfits,” she says. “We would all go out and have a good time. Wherever we were, we’d sit around and sing songs – not with any instruments or anything. Primarily, I sing for enjoyment. We used to make up atrocious songs there and then, but it was a great laugh. There  weren’t many punks around at that time, and skins seemed to think that violence should be their main pastime so it was us who were generally suffering. That was the only bad bit.”

“Later on there was me and two other girls, and we told people we were in this group called The Vandals. We used to boast about it terribly, so one guy booked us to do a support gig. We found a Christian guitar player to do this gig. It was awful because the other girls got bored and sat on the front of the stage giggling – I had to stand up and sing.”

“Then there was this folk club which I did with the same two girls – the club gave you free drinks for doing it. We’d always get booed off bye the beer boys, but it was a way of drinking for free!”

From those humble beginnings, the girl who was told she wasn’t allowed to appear in school plays because she wouldn’t sing has managed to mix the rigours of being a professional with the old times she enjoyed with her friends. Almost like someone who refuses to grow up, she retains the air of someone who has been mature for her age all her life. At the same time, she can’t resist a good giggle over a drink or little incidents that surround her and her friends. And she’s still treated as Alison (Alf) rather than anything special.

“Most of them are on the dole. We all came from the same background, none of us were working and none of us had any advantages over the others. We were all doing the same thing, playing pool, going round the pub, and I decided to pursue this career. When we’re together we don’t talk about work. When I get home I don’t want to talk about music and my mates don’t spend their social hours talking about being on the dole.”

“There was a time when I was at college practising while they were lazing around, and you’re going to take a lot of shit then. I was swotting away doing music and a couple of O levels (I flunked out of them) and then went to the London College of Furniture to do instrument restoration. Then I was at Southend Music College and at that time I was really into it, playing sax, oboe and guitar. I had one singing lesson – but I got thrown out! I think that’s basically because I smoke too much. But I call myself more a vocalist than a singer, because my range isn’t stunning. For me, it’s more of a case of living a song rather than just singing it. If you put me up against a singer, I’d definitely fall flat on my face.”

 

FROM LISTENING to Yazoo’s second and last album ‘You And Me Both’, it sounds from Alison Moyet’s songs that she’s had about 56 broken love affairs while partner Vince Clarke has been perpetually on the verge of suicide. Not true according to Alison.

“I think some of the songs are personal, but a lot of it is just imagination, I look at other people and put myself in their shoes. I’m not a very prolific writer – what tends to happen is I put a line in my head, and the rest seems to come out very quickly. ‘And On’ on the new album is basically not just about me, but about death. It came after talking to different friends who has lost somebody close to them. It’s saying that it is better for a young person to die like this than being a vegetable. He might have died young, but he had a good life.”

“Then there’s ‘Ode To Boy’ which started being of someone I knew, but ended up being more of a poetic exercise.”

Although the album rushed straight up the charts, all the songs are now history. Vince Clarke will settle down to his synthesizers and production work, while Alison works out exactly what she’s going to do – something that still has to be decided. And even though she and Vince split the songs equally on the new album, Alison insists there was no animosity over the split – just a slight difference of opinion.

“Basically we split because there are other things we want to do,” says Alison.

“Vince doesn’t like the restraints of promotional work, he doesn’t like touring, and generally doesn’t like doing anything outside the studio. I want to work with something that I’m one hundred percent behind, and I feel ‘Why go on with this, when I’m being misrepresented’. There’s no hard feelings between us, it’s something we both wanted to do. If anything we get on better now than in the beginning.”

“Those songs on the album were split because those are the ones that we wanted to work with. Yet I must admit that as a consumer, it’s not something I would have bought,  although I’m really glad I did it. I’ve got no regrets, I’m not ashamed of anything.”

“I’ve a tendency to prefer my own songs because being a singer you write the material for the vocals and a lot more can be done with those songs. Vince would go for melodies which aren’t very demanding vocally.”

As she talks you can tell that Alison Moyet is a little relieved that Yazoo have called it a day. A little frustrated because she’s been held up in London traffic and smoking heavily, there is a feeling that this is finally the end of stage one of her career.

Since Yazoo she has also done impromptu gigs with Alexis Korner and on ‘Switch’, proving that she is primarily interested in being a singer rather than someone who wants to change the face of music. Her work with Vince Clarke was satisfying as he had the technical resourcefulness and ideas, which were a vehicle for her voice and her own songs.

 

NOW A new vehicle  has to be found for her material and that will take some time. There won’t be a permanent band, but she will use a group of session players rather than one electronics man.

“I’ve been part of the group climate, but not really in it if you see the distinction,” she says. “I’ve been part of a group that’s been commercially successful, but Yazoo have never been listened to what everyone else is doing. I really like The Eurythmics and also Tears For Fears. I think they write good songs, and I think Annie Lennox has got a brilliant voice. It’s got direction to it, it works a song, it doesn’t just sing along to it with a bit of an edge. She’s a far better singer than I am.”

As for Alison’s new material, that’s still anyone’s guess.

“As I’ve been more happy I haven’t written many songs. I don’t feel creative as I don’t write happy songs. My pieces aren’t so much love songs as people songs.”

“The only other thing that concerns me is apartheid. With my political knowledge, I think it’s insulting to write something I know very little about. But with racism I’m amazed at how cruel people can be, how blind they are. How anybody with any intelligence could be so self-opinionated as to be racist appals me.”

“When you come to London and see how people are treated you realize how bad it is. I’m not black and I’m not saying this as a do gooder, but I think that any race or creed has a right to live in peace.”

Don’t expect world peace protest songs from Alison, though. What you can expect is more “people” songs, from someone who cares about her friends.

Alison Moyet arrived with two of her mates rather than a manager, and as you read this she’ll probably be about to kiss the pink down at her local pool table. And that’s almost as important to her as getting a hit record.

 

By Simon Hill

 

Originally printed  in Record Mirror on July 23rd 1983. Reprinted without permission for non-profit use only.

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