Getting ready for her Berlin concert this month, Alison Moyet talks about how her rough upbringing and dyslexia influence her music.
In the early 1980s, Alison Moyet skyrocketed to stardom as part of UK synth pop duo Yazoo. Following the band’s split after only three years, the singer embarked on a solo career. In June 2017, she released her ninth studio album Other and went on her first world tour in 30 years. This month, Moyet returns to Berlin for an encore.
What were your early musical influences?
I never grew up with pop/rock radio. My dad was an immigrant to England and didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived, so his only connection to home – we didn’t even have a telephone – was either French talk radio or it was Jacques Brel. When you look at Brel’s lyrics, there was that kind of mixture of irreverence, the grimness of his friend [Jojo] dying and all these subject matters.
Other certainly is one of your darker and more personal albums. You tackle your own dyslexia in “The English U”.
It’s a song I wrote for my mother who was lost to me on Alzheimer’s. I left school when I was 16, I have no qualifications. And my mother was always slightly disappointed by my lack of English skills and the fact that I couldn’t spell. One of the things I really remembered was how much she hated the Americanisation of the English spelling. The loss of the “u” in “colour”, for example. That whole song is dealing with the fact that whilst my mother was dying a horrible death in front of my eyes, all I could do for her was try desperately to learn how to spell, try to remember where her “u” went.
She didn’t appreciate your poetic lyrics?
To a certain degree she did. Still, the first thing my mother would do if I showed her a song of mine, instead of saying how it made her feel, was correct my spelling. It wasn’t her fault. Somebody who is a complete grammar fascist, as my mother was, doesn’t understand the fact that some people just can’t do it. My mum was a remote, isolated, shy woman who didn’t socialise. The only thing she felt secure in and felt she had something to say about was the English language.
How was it growing up as the daughter of an immigrant in the UK?
I look like my mum’s side of the family, and they’re all a bit pale and ginger-y, whereas my dad looks quite Arabic. Consequently, when he came to England, he got all the racial abuse. Growing up as an English girl in a French family, I was brought up to be hard. My dad always worked double shifts. I never had a doll or a dress, but I knew how to wallpaper when I was 10. We could just do shit. [Laughs] If we wanted something, we made it. I didn’t have a record player, so if I wanted music in my life I’d better work it out myself with whatever instrument was available. Not the easiest childhood. I come from a verbally violent family, but we could laugh at ourselves. I see humour in darkness. But I certainly felt very different from the children I was at school with. Even from a young age, I was perceived as remarkable, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. People always had to say something about me, and mostly it’s been pretty unpleasant. [Laughs] I was too physical for a girl. I might have had fights, and I didn’t have the accoutrements that girls had. When they got their dolls out, I didn’t know what the fuck you did with those. I was also an unusual character to be a celebrity; I didn’t look the part. In my twenties, I found it difficult to deal with that. But I’m very grateful for it today. I feel very comfortable with accepting the scars and the failures, and the things that I can’t do or the things that I’m shit at. And, as you get older, you realise how much otherness affects so many of us. There are so many reasons why we feel disconnected and “other”.
Jan 21, 20:00 Huxley’s Neue Welt, Neukölln