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What’s It All About Alfie?

Johnny Waller goes upstairs and downstairs with Yazoo.

Giving up on questions that I’d expected would generate obvious answers, I decide to tackle Alf a little more about her background both musical and personal. For all that she’s been suddenly been pushed into the public gaze, still very little is actually known about her.

Are you locked away in your own world a lot?

“Er, pretty much so, yeah. At home I write, I listen to music, sitting in my room playing records.”

Is it still mainly black music you listen to?

“Yeah, mostly, though now I’ve been exposed to the people at Mute … and I’ve heard Fad Gadget, that’s about the only contemporary stuff I listen to, apart from Elvis Costello, who’s always been a favourite of mine. It’s only at home that I listen to music – Billie Holiday, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Willie May Thornton … ”

Oh, she did the original of ‘Hound Dog’ didn’t she?

“Yeah, that’s right – and ‘Bell And Chain’, which Janis Joplin did.”

Would you hope that, through listening to Yazoo, other people might discover these old blues artists?

“I really hope so, because … to me, there’s no comparison! I see most music, including ours, as being so temporary – and when I listen to that,” she closes her eyes and almosts drifts off to some private blues heaven, “I know I’ll still be getting as much out of it in ten years, just like it still sounds fresh now.”

Do you ever think about doing cover versions?

“Yeah, I think about it all the time, but Vincent doesn’t really like to entertain the idea. There are songs that I’d really like to do, but it would be difficult to do them with Vince. Oh sorry, pet. I never meant it like that,” she says consolingly, placing a motherly hand on his leg in token apology. Vince smiles in acceptance, and she returns to her dreams.

“I’m really into Billie Holiday at the moment, I’d really love to cover a couple of her songs, but it’s so intricate for me to work out all the music and analyse it to tell Vincent what to play – so it’s easier just to write something new! But I’m definitely going to do that sometime, do some Billie Holliday songs, but it will probably be with session musicians. It’s the music I love.”

Vince drop back in with an air of nonchalance, “whereas I listen to anything really” – he pauses for dramatic effect – “apart from blues!”

Alf responds accordingly in their battling comedic duo routine. “I’m still working on that,” she states with a hint of menace.

So – given that even the name Yazoo comes from an old blues label – how does a music from the deep south of the United States sung by old black men to relieve their pain come to have such a hold on this happy young white girl from the deep south of England?

“Well, I never sung about repression or poverty or anything like that – more the emotional side of it … no matter what colour you are, everybody experiences some kind of pain, in inverted commas.”

Did you ever wish you were black?

“In some ways, yeah, but that’s difficult … because there’s no point in wishing you were something else than you are. But I so much like that sort of music and I’d so much liked to have done something like that and yet I know a lot of white musicians could never be taken seriously because they are white and weren’t born in poverty.”

“It’s difficult in some ways for someone like me to say why I’ve got the right to sing blues – people say ‘what have you ever suffered?’, but I think, well, I never sing about oppression or poverty anyway.”