YOU can take Sharleen Spiteri out of Glasgow, but you can’t take Glasgow out of the Texas frontwoman. On a busy Tuesday morning in a diner somewhere in the north of England, the singer has finally found time for breakfast.
She’s opted for a finely balanced combination of carbohydrate, protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Or as it’s better known in her hometown, a fish supper. “It’s the only thing I can have to eat in this place and this is the only gap I have to eat it. But they’ve served it on a slate,” scoffs the 49-year-old on the phone from Manchester, “with a bit of posh paper that they’ve tried to make look like a newspaper. I’m like, ‘Nah …’”
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You might not know it from this evident disdain for affectations, but Sharleen Spiteri is a native of Glasgow’s proto-hipster neighbourhood Finnieston, where Scottish staples like mince and tatties have recently been known to arrive at your table in an old Babycham glass.
These days, it’s the city's coolest quarter, all craft beers and brogues, and where the air in the shadow of the Finnieston crane no longer smells of heavy industry, but cedar-scented beard oil.
All a far cry from the rubble Spiteri roughed around in as a child growing up on Minerva Street, before her family moved to Balloch.
“I drove through [Finnieston] the other day. It’s unbelievable,” she says. “I remember loads of waste ground and oil drums everywhere. It’s amazing isn’t it, the way there used to be oil drums everywhere when you were a kid. You never see them now, do you?”
You do, but in Finnieston, they’re being used as barber’s chairs these days.
At least Spiteri has the grace not to bemoan the change. It’s been years since the former hairdresser pitched up in London, hanging with the Primrose Hill set in a lifestyle afforded her by the fruits of pop star success, the seeds of which were sown in Park Lane Studio down a back alley on Glasgow’s south side.
“It’s always good for things to move on and places to get better and nicer for people,” she says. “It’s nice for people who live there but it gets ridiculous when people can’t get houses at good prices. That’s when it starts to turn into something else.”
And when chips are served on slates with fake newspaper, then a place has turned into something else.
“They might do that now,” she says. “But back then you’d get fish and chips in the chippy and then go to the cafe for a cone.”
Spiteri returns to her old haunt later this year, playing the Kelvingrove Bandstand’s Summer Nights festival. It won’t be the first time she’s played there. “I’ve performed many times on that bandstand as a young girl with my mother screaming, ‘Get your a*** off that stage!’ she recalls.
“But never properly. That park was my local park, I spent loads of years in there and that bandstand is gorgeous, so I’m really excited. It will be amazing to play there.”
As her mother led her away from that decrepit stage in the 1970s, Spiteri had no notion that the next time she played there it wouldn’t be make-believe. Instead, it would be as the singer, songwriter and musician in a band with a 30-year career span and the same number again in millions of album sales.
It was as a teenage hairdresser, working at well-known city stylists Irvine Rusk, that Spiteri began the journey that would take her to the top of the pop charts, around the world and back to Kelvingrove. She wasn’t the first teenage girl to jack in the day job to pursue a dream, but when Spiteri swapped her trimming scissors for an electric guitar, she wanted to make music and sing songs, not to become famous.
Did she ever think she might one day find herself back behind a salon chair, telling stories to customers about how she used to be in a band?
“My old boss thought I might have had to but I never did,” she says. “It was the week before my 18th birthday and I went to Rita and Irvine [Rusk] and said I was going to go off and become a musician.
“They were both unbelievably supportive and said if it didn’t work out my job was always there. But I said, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.’
“ You’re brave at that age, and I was a bit like, ‘As much as I love this, I won’t be coming back.’ Some of the people I worked with there are still my best mates. But I love doing what I do. I’m glad every day when I get up and think, ‘I’m going to go and make music.’ Or even just sit around on my lousy a***. But I can do that because I make music.”
The band are about to release their ninth studio album Jump On Board, a collection of sophisticated pop, fused with the funk and soul sounds which were such a formative influence on Spiteri, who has spoken about idolising both The Clash's Joe Strummer and Motown queen Diana Ross.
The new album is polished and hooky, with single Tell That Girl released month. It follows their recent disco-flecked offering Let’s Work It Out, the video for which sees the singer driving around London in a Porsche Carrera with her chum Thierry Henri, looking fed up with each other.
So how does a French World Cup-winner end up in the video for a Scottish pop band? “I was in his house sitting chatting in the kitchen,” says Spiteri. “The best things always happen in the kitchen. I played him the new single on my phone because he’d been asking if we’d finished the album yet.
"He said he loved it, that it had the old soul train thing on it. When I got back to the studio everyone was like, ‘Ask him to be in the video’. I didn’t want to because he’s my mate and that was a bit like putting him in a position where he might feel awkward. I told him I wouldn’t be offended if he said no but he said he’d love to do it.”
Lyrically, the track does what many Texas songs do: hint, allude, suggest. I Don’t Want A Lover. So In Love With You. Say What You Want. Put Your Arms Around Me. When We Are Together. Inner Smile. In Our Lifetime.
The words, written by bassist Johnny McElhone and Spiteri, are sufficiently non-specific that as wide an audience as possible thinks it knows what they’re about. Or, indeed, for journalists to attempt to read something about Spiteri’s relationships into them.
"I wouldn't dream of telling you," says the singer, who's engaged to celebrity chef Bryn Williams (She is the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, Misty Kyd from her relationship with magazine editor Ashley Heath.)
Growing up, she recalls listening to records and then "some bloody musician" would "blow the whole thing" by explaining what it was about. "I don’t want to know what you [the bloody musician] wrote it about, because that’s my song. It’s places, faces, smells, it’s all these things and they are my story [as a listener].
“Telling you what it’s about kills the song. When you stand on stage and sing the song and everyone’s singing along to it, everyone’s singing it to a different person. They’re singing the same words, but they can be singing it to someone else from the person standing next to them.
“And that’s what I love about music. That moment of becoming one, that emotion and feeling over something.”
No point trying to read much into the dynamics of her own relationship from these new songs, then. Won’t Let You Down. Tell That Girl. It Was Up To You. Sending a Message. There might as well be one called This Song Is About Whatever You Think It’s About.
“I’m not very good at sharing my private life,” she says. Not that the tabloids paid much attention to that when she was part of the Chris Evans, Sadie Frost and Jude Law set in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“My mates keep asking me when we’re getting married," she says of her recent engagement. "But I’m like, ‘P*** off’. It’ll be next year. I was surprised, delighted [by Bryn's proposal], had no idea he was going to ask me, but I said to him what’s taken you this long? He just laughed at me. All my mates and family are really happy for both of us and my daughter is really happy so that’s fantastic. But when people ask if I’ve set a date I’m like, ‘Have you seen my diary?' The idea of organising a wedding scares the s*** out of me until I have time to do it. I want it really relaxed, nothing schmaltzy, just a good laugh. I don’t want a carnival, I want it to be private.”
The association with Evans remains, with the band all over the Radio 2 playlists and doing sessions on their old friend’s hugely popular Breakfast Show.
It’s a legacy which dates back to 1997, when Spiteri “stepped forward” to become the Texas frontwoman. Out went group pictures of her and her bandmates wearing fringed suede jackets and checked shirts, consigned to the bin with guitar player Ally McErlaine’s early signature bottle-neck guitar sound.
In came sultry snaps of our Sharleen as seen through the lens of fashion photographer Jeurgen Teller, remixes with the Wu Tang Clan and as many interviews on TFI Friday as they fancied, or so it seemed.
There was also an interview for a Strathclyde University student journalism project carried out by yours truly 20 years ago at King Tuts. Chris Evans and Jeurgen Teller can Say What They Want, but we all know where the biggest influence lay then, right?
“I do actually remember that,” says Spiteri, gracefully recalling how I’d brought my flatmate Elaine along because she had a poster of the band on her wall. “You were both dead nervous because you hadn’t done many interviews. I didn’t say yes to many of them either then.
“We’d metamorphosed into another band at the time. After I Don’t Want A Lover, the Manchester scene had happened and we became invisible in Britain, but we were thankfully still selling enough records in Europe.
“But I remember thinking we still felt relevant. We put our heads together and decided to make another great record, and we got it exactly right. It was a new sound for us, a new approach – everything led us to another level."
Her being on the album cover was a departure for the band. "I was ready to do interviews on my own, take that step forward. We all decided it was better that way, but it was my choice, it wasn’t someone in a record company telling me to wear short skirts be the girl in the band. F*** that. We did it our own way.
“In the early days it was very important for us to stick to our guns, as artists, musicians, songwriters. It was my decision to be in a band and it was my decision in those days not to do anything without the band. So by the time I did step forward people didn’t think, ‘Oh, ‘here’s the bird in the band’. People thought, ‘She’s a musician, she’s a songwriter.’ I had laid the foundations of who we were, who we wanted to be and where we were going to go.”
The reinvention saved Texas from the early 1990s burnout which did for many of their mid-ranking Scottish contemporaries, and elevated them way beyond anything they’d ever achieved. Aside from an eight-year hiatus, which saw their lead singer move into mandatory solo album territory, they’ve kept their momentum since being given their second chance.
Yet there are some things no amount of success can counter. In 2009, founder member and guitar player Ally McErlaine – the youngest of the original lineup – suffered a grade-five brain haemorrhage which left him unable to walk, talk or speak, let alone play a guitar.
“The first thing in my head wasn’t, ‘Oh sh**, Texas’, it was, ‘Oh sh**, Ally.’ We’ve all grown up together, and to get the call that nobody’s ever prepared for came as a big shock,” says Spiteri.
The band played a key part in McErlaine's rehabilitation, and he's now back not only with Texas, but in country band Red Sky July with wife Shelly Poole, formerly of 1990s pop outfit Alisha’s Attic.
“Shelly was like, ‘You lot get your a***s up here and start talking, you’ve known him the longest, you need to start pressing the buttons that remind him of who is is, where he is, what he did, everything.
“So suddenly you’re sitting telling these stories and you start remembering things too. Suddenly talking about all that, it was like, bloody hell, what an extraordinary time we’ve had.”
And so it continues, eating chips for breakfast on the promotional trail, and going back to play in the park she ran in as a kid.
Spiteri will be 50 in a few months, but evidently isn’t troubled by it. She could still pass for 30-something, in the magical world of the pop video at least.
“I’m chuffed about it, happy in my life, and more than happy with the record we’ve made. It’s bloody good. You don’t know when it’s going to stop and I don’t kid myself on, I know it won’t last forever. But hopefully it’ll stop at a time when I’m done and ready to say, thank you very much, goodnight.”
Until then, there’s work to be done back up the road. And it’s not singing.
“Whenever I’m coming up [to Scotland], my mum says, ‘Bring the scissors’,” says Spiteri.
“I tell her, ‘When exactly am I going to fit in cutting your hair, Mum?’
“She just says to me, ‘You’ll find the time. Singing doesn’t do me any good. Bring your scissors'.”
Texas's new album, Jump On Board, is out on April 21. They play the Kelvingrove Bandstand July 31-August 2 and tour in September, playing Edinburgh, Dundee and Inverness Tickets: http://gigst.rs/texas