Clare Grogan has enjoyed an intriguing career throughout her extensive history, balancing various roles in music, acting, presenting and also writing. But it’s her time with Scottish pop outfit Altered Images that firmly put her on the map back in the 1980s.
Altered Images enjoyed phenomenal success at the time, clocking up three Top 10 albums alongside no less than six Top 40 singles. This included ‘Happy Birthday’ which reached No. 2 in the UK singles chart back in 1981 (t was also the 15th-best-selling single in the UK that year).
In issue 3 of Blitzed we spoke to Clare about the continuing popularity of Altered Images, navigating the choppy waters of 1980s stardom, her love of performing live and details of a brand new Altered Images album…
Altered Images were perhaps one of the most loved pop outfits of the 1980s. How do you think their legacy stands up in the modern era?
Judging by the response I get when I do live shows with all those classic hits of ours, like ‘I Could Be Happy’, ‘See Those Eyes’, ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’, the response is incredible. So, I can only judge it on how it’s reacted to like that and that’s pretty positive and lovely I have to say!
What’s the appeal of performing live these days and what sort of audiences typically make up an Altered Images crowd?
Well, I’ve just done a tour in March that pretty much sold out, which is great. I look at the audience and I see my peers basically. I see people that probably came to see the band 40 years ago. I think there’s some real die-hard fans out there. I also see a younger audience as well. Quite often they’ve been brought maybe by a parent or something, but also, going back to your first question, for whatever reason, the 80s in general is quite cool among the young. I have a 17-year-old daughter and when she’s got her pals around here, they do listen to new stuff, but as the night goes on I hear a lot of Soft Cell and Blancmange, The Human League. They’re all really into it.
So, yeah I think these are songs which people really relate to and sometimes I kind of think “What is that?” And maybe it’s just because they’re really good songs! (laughs)
You also have a new Altered Images album Mascara Streakz on the horizon. How did that come about?
Well, it kind of was born in lockdown. Like a lot of people in my industry, we were suddenly shut down from what we normally did. I had been in Scotland in a play when lockdown happened. Opened on a Saturday and closed on the Monday. But I truly believed that I’d be back in a couple of months. So, I came home. I’m really cosied up with my family I have to say and I really enjoyed it! I’m not joking! (laughs) and watched all kinds of box sets. But then I got to the point when the second lockdown came, I thought “I’ve got to use this time. I’ve got to feel productive.”
I guess I started thinking about when things had opened up again, how I viewed it and how I could move forward with it. And for me the most important thing was I felt I need to say a bit of a “Thank you” to all of the people that have turned up to see me for all these years and the best way of doing it is by creating a new body of work, so to speak.
I don’t feel absolutely compelled to write songs and I’m very fortunate because my husband, who was an original member in the band but doesn’t perform with us anymore, has huge experience in the music world and produced Hanson, Black Grape and Spaced, so I’m really fortunate to have a great record producer at home. I’ve got a neighbour, Bernard Butler, who’s also vastly experienced. I’ve a really good friend Robert Hodgens, better known as Bobby Bluebell from The Bluebells . So, these were all people that I felt comfortable about sort of writing songs with. It just went from there. It didn’t necessarily set out to be a new Altered Images album, but then when I was playing them to people, people were really responding to them and I ended up with a record deal – which came as an absolute delight at this point in my life.
Obviously, there’s clearly some very talented contributors for Mascara Streakz, so how would you describe the sound of the new album?
I really specifically started listening to it because I’ve got a 17-year-old daughter and I can’t get over the fact that her life had been restricted in the way it was and I started thinking about myself at 17 and the freedom I had. I was in the band travelling all around the UK at that point and having the time of my life. So, I went back and started listening to the records that I was listening to at that age. I wanted [to] really stay connected to the sort of original Altered Images audience, but I thought “I’ve really got to bring this up to date”. I’ve got to find a way to make this have a big leap ahead, but kind of retaining the kind of sentiment of what we did originally. And that’s for other people to judge whether or not I was successful or not.
I mean I had a lot of help. I’d just say to people, “At the end of the day I made an album I love with people I love. I feel my work is done!” (laughs) But it’s not. I now want everyone to hear it. But I just think what a joy to get to do in life. I’m hugely proud of it and I’m just glad that I’ve done it. We put a lot of work into it, but it was kind of easy as well. It just flowed and it’s all about timing really I think in life, a lot of these things. Suddenly I found that moment in my life that I could tell a story that I wanted to tell. And for me, Mascara Streakz is basically about life! I really equate it with a crazy night out, the sort of anticipation, the fun, the drama, it all going pear-shaped. Your friends rescuing you from crazy situations and the reflection of it all and I thought it was such an amazing metaphor for life. It’s like those nights out were preparing you for the madness that comes with adulthood. So, I just worked on that as a theme for a lot of the songs.
The early Altered Images live shows saw the band supporting some of the major acts of the 1980s. It’s quite a collection!
I know! And I can report that they were all really lovely to us!
Well, the next question was, did you have an exciting tour stories to reveal?
The thing is, we were quite tame, I have to say. I think part of that is – crazy as it sounds – is we were very young and we almost… I certainly felt like if I didn’t kind of keep a hold of myself, not do anything too daft, then I could keep doing this. Otherwise, my parents might stop me. So, when people ask about crazy times on tour, with Siouxsie and the Banshees, it was like we didn’t really have them. They were incredibly lovely and protective to us. We did have a laugh, but I’ve always known my boundaries in life. I think it’s why I’m still alright to a certain extent and still doing things. Because I’ve always known when to go home.
That’s probably a good sentiment. I mean the rock n roll lifestyle can take it out of you. Wasn’t it also true that you were a member of the Siouxsie and the Banshees fan club and that this is how your musical career originally kicked off?
Yeah, we sent our demo to Billy Chainsaw, who was the fan club manager. I mean, that’s the way we thought things were done. We literally had no experience; we’d had no life experience. We’d had no experience of the music business and I think in that way it was a gift, because you don’t see the barriers. So, we literally posted it off and then Billy phoned Johnny McElhone, I think, and said “We loved the demo and yes, you can actually come on tour with us!” (laughs)
And we really thought it was going to continue like that, but in a bizarre way it did. Because our goals were things like: “We’d love to play with Siouxsie and the Banshees”, “We’d love to get a John Peel session, we want John Peel to see us”, “We want to be on Top Of The Pops”. That was the extent of our goals, it really was. Nothing more, nothing less, that’s what it was. And we achieved all of that really, really quickly and that’s something I’ll never understand.
It also sounds like you’re happy with your legacy. There are other musicians from that era who perhaps did go through the whole rock and roll lifestyle and have become bitter and jaded in later years. But you sound genuinely happy with your history.
As an adult, you can’t get through life without having to deal with some shit, you know and I’m no exception. But for me, just the absolute joy of being on stage singing these songs. It’s incredibly special to me. Maybe that’s something else that I realised in lockdown. I’ve got quite a varied career. The thing that I really missed was singing and I suppose that took me by surprise a little bit. I mean I do love to sing; I call music my therapy and it is, it really is. Music and running are my two go-to therapies for when I’m feeling crap about things.
It just became really obvious to me that I had to keep going with it and honestly, if you’d seen the reactions we get on stage. I’ve got a pool of amazing musicians that I work with. The reaction is really special and I love the idea of people coming and not being quite sure what to expect. And then just about everybody goes away going “That was great!” and I love that and I know that might sound weird. When you get to this point in your career and your life, you can kind of take the compliments! I spent my whole life going “Oh no, shut up! No, no, don’t say that!” and now I’m like “People have had a really good time” – and I’ve witnessed that and that’s a brilliant thing to be part of.
As long as you’re enjoying yourself, that’s the main thing.
Exactly. There’d be no point otherwise.
This interview originally featured in issue 3 of Blitzed and was conducted prior to the release of the album Mascara Streakz