Adam Sweeting speaks to the sixties icon who has risen
from pop's graveyard to breath new life into the charts.
Dusty herself is almost dismissive of the album, which has steadily
accrued legendary status since its release in 1969. "It's become rather
an over-rated classic," she thinks. "It's not as if it's some magnificent work
of art. It's a good record."
Good enough for the Pets anyway, and in 1987, the Boys invited Dusty to
sing on "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" Then came a Top 5 hit with
"Nothing Has Been Proved" from the movie Scandal, an inspired
deployment both of Dusty's voice and her enduring aura as sixties icon.
Now there's her new album Reputation, half-written and half-produced by the
Boys, the other half the product of a motley assortment of writers,
producers and engineers. It's bound to generate more discs to hang on the wall.
And if the Pet Shop Boys hadn't come along? "God knows," exhales Dusty,
along with a jet of cigarette smoke. She is looking unmistakably
diva-like, a vision in peroxide and pink. "I just would have taken a
different route. It probably would have been more scenic. I was
plotting a bit over in California, wondering how I was going to approach
all this again, and then all the decisions were taken out of my hands,
which I was very relieved about."
It's always with hindsight that I realise things blindingly clearly, but
"What Have I Done To Deserve This?" was a great rehearsal for the next one,
"Nothing Has Been Proved". It's as if I'm being weaned in some way and
allowed to rehearse things little by little. I want to work with them
again, but I'm sure neither side wants to always work together.
With the album being a mixture, I'm being given things to do that
gradually build up the confidence and allow me a little more freedom."
The album is a slick and well-planned showcase for Springfield's voice,
which has retained its familiar timbre and twang remarkably well,
considering how it's been abused in its time. "Reputation" and "I Was
Born This Way" allow her to lay back and roar. "Nothing Has Been Proved"
and the beautifully floaty "Daydreaming" draw on Dusty's ability to
suggest and confide.
"The record is fairly eclectic in tempos," she reflects, huskily. "I would
be somewhat distraught to have to go and make a dance record with
somebody more frivolous than the Boys because it really wouldn't work.
With them, there's always something slightly off-centre that I like.
I'm a bit off-centre as well. We get along fine."
Dusty's off-centreness might account for the turbulence she has encountered in
her life, although, like Sandie Shaw and Marianne Faithfull, she has turned
out to be tougher than she looks. It was the troublesome intrusions of the
press that first drove her to live in America, but there's a part of her
personality which can't help getting itself in the news. Perhaps it's
because newspapers run in her family, her grandfather having been
parliamentary correspondent for the Irish Independent.
"I always did blunder into things," she admits, one of them being apartheid,
which the pioneering chanteuse clashed with in 1964. Having had a clause
written into her contract saying she could and would play to mixed audiences
in South Africa, she walked into a political storm which ended in her
being confined to her hotel under a kind of house arrest.
"I wasn't making any major statement, I just felt better about it that
way, being the naive person I was," she remembers ruefully. "I thought it
was morally the right thing to do. But they were waiting for some
idiot to write a very small clause into their contract, they were so
goddamn smart. There was a real backlash because I was accused of making
things worse, and so unwittingly I had. But what meant something to me was
the airline workers, the black guys, lifted their hats when I got on the
plane. I thought oh, you did notice, even though I fucked it up."
It was open season on Dusty when she arrived back in Britain. Well-loved
stars of stage and screen, like Max Bygraves and Derek Nimmo, criticised her
for making it harder for them to work in South Africa. "What a prat!"
snaps Dusty, of Nimmo. "Is he still alive? Well, he's still a prat. I
would say it to his face. That was such a prat-like thing to say."
Also somewhat regrettabe was her abortive effort at a comeback two decades
later under the auspices of clubland entrepreneur Peter Stringfellow. "Boy,
was that a blunder," Dusty winces. "I didn't know Peter had a fetish for
butterflies - he has them everywhere. I present him with a song called
"Sometimes Like Butterflies", and he goes yes! We'll put it out in an
eight-minute version and it will be Number 1! I said I don't think so.
"Peter is the most marvellous club person, and I really respect what he's
done, but he wasn't a record person. It didn't work. He still sends me
flowers every now and again, but he's just such a mixture of being abusive
publicly to me and being a gentleman."
Assorted cock-ups behind her, the trick now will be to maintain her new
winning streak. Having moved back to Buckinghamshire, she has already
been reminded that some things don't change. A local reporter came banging on
her door, and when Dusty (hair in curlers and about to catch a plane)
declined to do an interview on the spot, the hack gave her address to
"All of a sudden they're out there with telephoto lenses," she wails.
"I thought they must be really hard up for news. Why do they want to take
a picture of me taking my rubbish out? I have absolutely nothing to hide.
I live there with my cat. That's it. That's my life."
Though, of course, it might be even worse not being in the papers.
"It backfires if you talk to them, and it backfires if you don't," Dusty
reasons. "I chose this job, nobody forced it down my throat. So either you
stand it or you get out."
The Guardian, June 7, 1990
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