Clare Grogan was looking back on her younger self when she came to the startling realisation that she had lost a big part of what made her successful – her boldness.
Finding fame as both a singer and an actress while still a teenager, Grogan had the characteristic in bucketloads. But when she realised it had slowly eroded, she vowed to claim it back. And, in so doing, she has recorded the first Altered Images album in nearly 40 years.
“The whole thing about the album is allowing yourself to be brave – I think we lose a wee bit of that as we progress in life,” she said thoughtfully, speaking from her kitchen in the family home.
“I went back and thought of the girl I was, and where I got the boldness and braveness to put myself in that position. As much as I’m very much the same person in many ways, I kind of lost that boldness and I wanted to see if I could find it again, which I think is quite interesting that I’m doing it at this point.
“I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve had moments where I thought I’d had my time and I should be glad that I’d done what I’d done and got what I had, because I’ve done quite a lot.
“Then I thought about how I’d been doing some life coaching with my daughter and building her self-esteem, and I felt I had to pay attention to some of it myself.
“It was a bit of an epiphany, I have to say. In many ways, I suppose trying things out is so important and maybe I’d started to play things safe. I’ve always liked a challenge and being out of my comfort zone. It all goes back to the simple truth that you’re allowed to keep being relevant.
“I don’t have an issue with getting older, but I don’t want to be viewed as an age; I want to be viewed as a person. I suppose everyone feels like that when they get a bit older.
“I think in society we are still slightly pigeon-holing people into who they should be at a certain point in their lives and I think, no, that’s not for me, I’m going to be who I want to be.”
For Grogan, what she wants to be is a singer, an actress, an author, a TV presenter, a business owner and, most importantly, a mum to daughter Elle.
Two days ago, the first Altered Images album in 39 years was released. Having had chart hits with Happy Birthday, Don’t Talk To Me About Love and I Could Be Happy when she was barely out of her teens, Grogan is back at 60 years old with Mascara Streakz, which has been almost universally acclaimed among critics.
She said: “I’ve realised I’m quite a big non-conformist – not in a hugely loud and rebellious way, but I have quietly done life in my own terms for a very long time. What I hadn’t done is push myself a little bit, push myself out there.
“Maybe I was afraid. Now, I’ve found that thing inside of me I had as a younger person and it’s made me not afraid any more, and honestly, it’s the joy of singing. I don’t want to sound corny, but singing is when I’m most free. I love acting but you’re playing someone else. Altered Images is me being me.”
It would be easy to label the new album as a lockdown project, but for Grogan it is so much more and it has given her positive personality even more energy and vigour.
She said: “Quite often people say to me that I’m a really happy person, and I am, I’m predisposed to happiness. But believe me, everything has got in the way of that happiness.
“But there’s something about me that goes, you know what, we’re going to deal with this, sort it out and move on, and afterwards we’re going to go out and have a really good time.
“And that’s what this record is about – it’s about surviving, it’s about saying I’ve lived a life good and bad, beautiful and sad. It’s the bitter-sweetness of life that I wanted to come across on this record and ultimately the joy of still being engaged with other people and having a lust for life, as Iggy said.”
Much of the album was written at her kitchen table. It began as a slow process, an unfinished song between Grogan and husband Stephen Lironi (her Altered Images bandmate) then an unfinished song between her and old pal Robert Hodgens (better known as Bobby Bluebell from The Bluebells).
But then the trio, along with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, sat round that kitchen table and out came a flow of songs that strongly recalled the new wave sound of Altered Images’ first three albums while also harnessing a contemporary feeling. Daughter Elle contributed backing vocals to some of the tracks.
Grogan said: “When we started on the record, we wanted it to be about now and how Altered Images would sound today
“I tuned into some of the characteristics of what made us the band we were in the ‘80s and brought it up to date. There’s lots of nods to the early days, because I’m so fond and proud of what we achieved, as we were so young and thrown into it overnight.
“We coped well with that – I talk about it a lot, but we were surrounded by the right people and that’s a big thing. It gives you the stability to keep your feet on the ground.”
As the songs were being worked on, the Gregory’s Girl star wondered what to do next. She sent five songs to Simon Watson, the manager of Belinda Carlisle and The Human League, and asked for his thoughts.
She said: “I didn’t have a manager, so I asked for Simon’s advice and he came back to me straight away and said he would get me a record deal. And he did. That was a good moment.”
And this is not just a one-off. The deal was for two albums, so her attention will soon turn to writing the next set of songs. Altered Images continues to be a touring band, too.
They played two nights at Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow earlier this month and will be back in Scotland for a gig in Paisley in a couple of weeks. Grogan describes it as being like “the circus coming to town”.
“We’re all dolled up within an inch of our lives and we take the audience with us in this gorgeous celebration of music,” she continued. “The band members rotate, so when you come to see us you don’t know who Altered Images are going to be, but they are all brilliant.”
Grogan admits she can no longer remember the day-to-day life of a pop star from the first time around, but she does know social media is the one big difference on this second go. She’s hands on with it, working in conjunction with the team from her record label, Cooking Vinyl.
“I’m really enjoying working with people who weren’t necessarily around for my first records but who are making this the best they can be and there’s something really humbling about that,” she smiled.
One thing that is the same 40 years on is the sense of nerves she has around a new release. “I’ve been absolutely terrified ahead of the release,” she admitted.
“The whole process has been this really lovely, crazy, chaotic experience that’s led to this point and letting it out to the world is kind of the moment of truth. I’m slightly reassured by the amazing response so far.
“The big thing back then was the chart position when you released a single – it was always a nerve-wracking moment for us. Even thinking about chart positions gives me the heebie-jeebies but we’ll see what happens.
“I think I’ve created something on my own terms and that’s brilliant – but I also really need people to like it! I wish I could say if they don’t like it, they can all just get tae, but I want people to like it and to understand where it’s coming from and just what a significant moment it is in my life.”
Gregory’s Girl actress excited to go back to school
She will forever be synonymous with her role as Susan in Gregory’s Girl, but Clare Grogan is equally excited about her part in a new movie.
The Glaswegian is part of the cast of My Old School, the documentary currently in cinemas about Brandon Lee, the schoolboy imposter who re-enrolled in secondary school at 32 years old.
She said: “It’s an amazing film and I’m so glad I got to be a tiny part of it. There’s an animated sequence and I voice one of the teachers.
“The writer-director has done an amazing job of putting together this crazy puzzle of a story and Alan Cumming (who plays Brandon Lee) is a genius in it, as always.”
Grogan has enjoyed a varied acting career, appearing in the likes of Red Dwarf, EastEnders, Father Ted and Taggart, as well as in theatre. She returned to the stage just before lockdown but managed just a handful of performances before the pandemic brought it to an abrupt end.
“I was doing Barefoot In The Park at Pitlochry. It was a big leap for me. To take on that role was quite something and I loved it,” she said. “We opened on Saturday and closed on Monday – I’d learned all the lines and everything!
“Like everyone else, I was saying to the cast and team that I’d see them in a few weeks’ time and we’d pick up where we left off, but of course none of us knew what was coming next.
“It feels like a bit of unfinished business. I hope it isn’t another seven years before I get the chance to go on to another theatre stage in Scotland.”
Altered Images’ new album, Mascara Streakz, is out now
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