The Southbank Centre’s Meltdown festival gets underway next week, curated this year by Antony Hegarty (of the Johnsons fame). Among the highlights are performances by Lou Reed, Joan as Police Woman and synth pop pioneer Marc Almond, who will be performing his cult 1983 album Torment and Toreros in its entirety for the first time ever. Scout asked the Soft Cell founder how it felt to be revisiting what he once called “a nervous breakdown put to music”
It’s not long until Meltdown. How are you feeling about performing Torment and Toreros after such a long time? Nervous? Excited? Both?
I’m both excited and nervous. I had a lot of doubts about performing it after so long when Antony first asked me. It was 30 years ago and was written and recorded in a certain state of mind with references and influences that made a lot of sense at the time but now are hard to connect with in many ways. That’s why I’ve not performed much of it over the years. It’s a complicated record, much of it made up on the spot, lyrically and musically. It’s visceral and angry in parts and some of it is just not where I am now as a person. But, then again, I could say the same for a lot of songs in my back catalogue.
You famously described the album as “a nervous breakdown put to music”. Can you elaborate on that?
The album is a bloody-minded statement, an exorcism and, yes, a breakdown committed to vinyl. It reflected a lot of my disillusionment with mainstream success and fame and how I found it hard to cope with and wanted to break away from it. It probably, more than Soft Cell, set me on the musical road to the artist I am now.
When you consider how volatile and challenging it is, are you at all surprised that it has become one of your most iconic pieces of work?
I can understand why it meant so much to Antony, and to others. It was a breakaway from mainstream pop success. It was emotional and passionate, animal, almost pagan like flamenco. It has a sense of alienation and that’s something I’ve always felt to an extent. I’ve never felt a part of anything really and certainly not the music business, however much I try. Antony related to those feelings. And only Antony could have got me to perform the whole album. I have such respect and good feeling for him. So I’m looking at it like performing a piece of theatre or an opera, where I try to inhabit the person I was then – to perform it, like a character.
You and Antony have a special relationship – he brought you onstage when you were still recovering from your 2004 motorcycle accident, and you’ve worked together since. Will his presence add much to the experience for you?
For Antony to be involved brings the piece full circle. Torment and Toreros has been a part of his musical journey and now he is able to take part, which completes the circle. I was thrilled that Antony was introduced to Lou Reed and his brilliant album Berlin through my cover of Caroline Says. Decades later Antony later took part in Lou’s revival of the album. It’s a great thing for one artist to take another on a journey. When I flipped over David Bowie’s single Sorrow in the early 70s, I found Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam, which took me on a musical journey that passed through all kinds of art, theatre and literature on the way.
Who else on the Meltdown bill are you hoping to see? Will you be appearing at any of the other shows?
There are many other artists I would love to see – Elizabeth Fraser, Lou, Joey Arias, most of it really. But I won’t be taking part in anything else as I have enough to do with Torment and Toreros.
Meltdown, Southbank Centre, August 1-12, Marc Almond performs on August 9, meltdown.southbankcentre.co.uk
Scout will also be interviewing Berlin-based electronic stars Matmos ahead of their Meltdown performance on August 6. Keep an eye on scoutlondon.com