She’s been writing and performing for over 30 years. Q Magazine described her as having “one of the finest voices of modern times…” Horse has nine albums under her belt and many classic songs in the back catalogue, including the iconic song Careful, (covered by Will Young). INSIGHT Magazine was thrilled to catch up with Horse ahead of her upcoming gig at The Beacon Arts Centre.
Why did you choose the name Horse? Do you use in everyday life? Or is it only your stage name?
I have been Horse for over 40 years – banking, passport, birth certificate. My mum and dad called me Horse – “My name is Horse, soft and strong!”
Who are your biggest influences?
I always say that my biggest influences have been the least obvious ones – possibly the things I have soaked up like a sponge in my formative years. My dad listening to opera and various classical composers, from my mum Frank Ifield, Andy Williams, Dusty and Shirley and the ones I recognise – Joan Armatrading, Sparks, Kate Bush Marc Bolan, David Bowie…
Your song ‘I Am’ from your album HOME really moved me. The image of a girl ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’ having her wee heart broken really struck a chord. I loved how the song turns from this tragic image eventually to a really empowering anthem. Can you tell me a little about where those lyrics came from?
It’s from my own personal experience as a child growing up never pleasing my parents in particular, my dad. In effect it’s about that one universal desire that we all have to be loved for who we are. Out of love for the child we enforce what we believe to be best for them, at times we crush their spirit… but they will still love us regardless. We keep fighting for our voices to be heard and for love…
On the ancestry front, I have discovered my mum and dad lived in Gourock in the 50s… My most recent discover is that I have many more rellies in Greenock…
You were recently involved with the Radio Scotland Singer Songwriter Award as a judge. Can you tell me a bit about it?
I was proud and honoured to be on the judging panel for the inaugural BBC Radio Scotland Singer Songwriter award with a stellar group of people from across the Scottish Music industry – Promoter Geoff Ellis DF Concerts, Fran Healy of Travis, Karine Polwart singer songwriter (in charts recently with her brilliant album ‘Scottish Songbook ) and Dee Bahl manager (ex Biffy Clyro). Scotland has such a rich songwriting tradition and the idea was to encourage and give ‘would be’ writers something to aim for. It had all the ‘right’ elements in it. It was about finding a song and a writer to give them the opportunity to move up into a different level. I was blown away by the experience. The first wave of entries were whittled down to 19 and given to us judges … each person had performed an original song and a cover. It was very, very difficult to choose. We were pretty universal on our top ten. Out of those, the public then voted for the top four. We then had the even more difficult task of choosing the winner at the live final, broadcast from at St Luke’s in Glasgow. Davie Scott (Pearlfishers ) mentored the writers in the final weeks. It was fascinating and exciting to see the development in them all. Our winner was Mike McKenzie from Edinburgh. His song ‘Love like this’ is classic and a bit of an earworm… he will be recording at the BBC, and has a slot at TRNSMT next year. I have just invited him to open for me at my first big 30th Anniversary shows at Queens Hall in Edinburgh in November. For Mike this is really just the beginning of a what I am sure will be a successful career as singer songwriter – a very worthy winner.
“I love what I do and will sing ’til my last breath.”
You’ve toured with Tina Turner, BB King and Brian Ferry… Out of those three, which was your favourite experience and why?
All of these experiences were incredible and such great opportunities. I think the first major excitement was the BB King tour of the UK. We had ‘Forgiven’ out as a single and it was the greatest high ever. Touring the UK at THAT level for the first time felt incredible. He was a gentleman. He was also fun. He would come in to our dressing room and have a chat with us. One such occasion he was telling us that he had a band opened for him once and ‘they’re doing pretty well now.” Who was that, BB? “U2.”
With Tina Turner travelling across Europe playing massive venues, especially playing Wembley arena, was the dream support. I loved it. She is probably one of the best entertainers of all time.
I met Bryan Ferry while we were recording our first album… I had been singing for hours and I ran out into the foyer of the studio where there was a large coffee pot. Desperate. I saw someone pouring the last drops of coffee into their mug … I muttered a few expletives at this person in my broadest Scottish accent before realising it was Bryan. He was lovely, I was mortified!
You’ve said in a past interview that you think HORSE are overlooked when people write about the Scottish music scene. Do you still believe this?
I think yes that’s probably true to an extent. We didn’t fit in with indie ‘Postcard’ or the other pop and rock bands of the time. A woman fronting the band and two women writers/ musicians, (myself and Angela McAlinden), was pretty unique. I was also incredibly androgynous, which didn’t help the situation and no-one, far less ourselves, knew how to promote us. What is worse than being pigeon-holed – possibly not fitting in?
However, I still have people following me from all those years ago. I am proud that the songs mean so much to so many people. I am glad we did what we did and how it all happened – I wonder if I would still be writing now if things had been different. I love what I do and will sing ’til my last breath.
How difficult was it to be ‘out’ in the music scene in the 80s/early 90s?
A very lonely and difficult place to be. Of course in those times with no internet, there were no other women ‘role models’ like me making music, that I could see, far less any visibly lesbian. Jimmy Sommerville was probably the only other British artist ‘out’. Like Jimmy, I could not and would not pretend to be anything other than myself. Many years later I would see and hear from lots of people who found my visibility very important to them. I only ever wanted to find my own voice and make music. Fortunately most people who did follow loved the music.
How different is the music scene today to when you were starting out? What has been the biggest change, and do you have any advice for young musicians?
I think in my day in the scheme of things I was a little spec in the ocean. Upon the arrival of the internet people used to say to me ‘ooh now that there’s the internet doesn’t that make things easier?’ Actually instead of being a spec in the ocean we have become ‘nano’ spots in the universe, in effect, making life much harder in terms of promo. For those artists growing up in this tech savvy world it’s their lived experience and they’re probably better equipped to deal with it. Bottom line is to write a great song and find your voice – the selling is another issue. It’s a journey that, in the end, we all find our own route. You have to learn to believe in yourself be persistent and determined.
I heard you discovered a long lost uncle and there was more than a passing resemblance? How did you find him and can you tell us about your relationship with him?
I love my ancestry research – but it’s one of many long stories! I’ll try to be brief. My dad grew up in Perth. His mum, my grandmother died shortly after giving birth to my uncle. He was immediately adopted out to a family in the next street! There were several incidences of close encounters when my mum and dad passed someone in the street and my mum said he was the spitting image of my dad. My dad and his other brother never knew they had another brother until 65 years later when Walter got in touch with them through a search agency. In interviews, when people asked if there was anyone else musical in the family I always answered ‘no’. It turned out that Walter had sung for Scottish Opera! I met him after my concert at the Barrowlands. I had put a show together with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and my dad was also at the gig. They were like peas in a pod. I recorded that show which means I forever have them in the audience together…
On the ancestry front, I have discovered my mum and dad lived in Gourock in the 50’s. My most recent discovery is that I have many more rellies in Greenock – Dugald McArthur Crawford was the head of one family … work in progress as they say.
This tour is called Flying Solo – does that mean you are performing without a band?
Yes, completely solo. I rarely do this, it’s quite nerve racking for me. My evil pixie on my shoulder tells me I can’t do it! I guess I rise to the occasion. I don’t know why, but the audience seem familiar and like old friends. It makes for a very intimate, and in my case, chatty show. I tell as many stories as I sing. I have much to tell!
Do you have a favourite song to perform – and why?
It has to be Careful. It is probably one of the best songs Angela and I have ever written. The depth of meaning in so few words. Truly bitter sweet. Erik Ifergan, our video director for Careful, said it held such pathos it reminded him of a silent movie and in particular Harold Lloyd, who never ever smiled in his films. I sang it to my mum at the end of her time. It was the only thing I could give her that said everything.
Finally, which song do you wish you had written?
So many but if I am forced to choose – First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.
Horse takes her tour Flying Solo to The Beacon Arts Centre on 5th October at 8pm. Go to www.beaconartscentre.co.uk for more details.
Photos by Kris Kesiak.