NME Interview 23rd July 1983


The Audrey Hepburn of the '80s pop dream? Or just little Miss Taloolah Gosh in an evening gown? David Dorrell asks if Clare Grogan's look is worse than her "Bite'.

Isn`t your imagination just the most romantic rendezvous in the world? And aren't other people's the most deceptive?
Altered Images have just released their third LP, 'Bite'. A swirling current of Love in the South Seas, of elegance and yearning, of Blue Lagoons and lush tapestries. Most of it was recorded in Soho.
Some critics have seen it as a paean to maturity, others as the art of artifice. Somewhat confusingly both judgements fall under the jurisdiction of Sophistication.
Hence the reality of their attributes is somewhat obscured from public view.
In my mind this meet was with Audrey Hepburn, and I pictured our tete-a-tete so: the fall leaves of a rich, brown October would be blowing lifelessly through the dusk of a Parisian boulevard when slowly, idly, an ebony robed idol would swan into the shadowland. Then, pausing for a second, she would stare coldly from beneath her hat and smile a sultry smile through the blue smoke of a Gauloises.
In the light of day in another country the actuality unfolds: the Left-bank of the Seine crumbles quietly into the South Bank of the Thames, the Gallic air is dispersed efficiently by a nippy breeze and the smoke is no more than the haze on the river.
And the idol? The idol has become the dapper, somewhat pert outline of Clare Grogan. She is slightly crumpled in her black and white two-piece, but nonetheless after a quick spray of cologne she is as fresh as a lily. A gilded lily.
Slightly nervous (I presume) she laughs frequently; smiling constantly through her blue, ice-crystal eyes. Eyes that leave you bewitched, bothered and bewildered. Eyes that bite.
'Bite' itself has seen the Images in their new, altered state. Guitarist Jim McKiven and drummer Tich Anderson have been replaced by Steve Lironi, an octopus of sorts, who manages both percussion and guitar.
Or as Clare would say, "We lost a lead guitarist and a drummer and gained a smart alec - who can do both."
On the surface, Altered Images are beginning to sound like the overture for a Scottish Spandau Ballet.
A resumé of the album seems to substantiate that fact; in addition to the core of the group there are saxophones, keyboards, backing vocalists and strings. And although only three of the six months of the slate's production were in the studio, two producers were used - Mike Chapman (October and December) and Tony Visconti (March).
Undoubtedly, it is the height of sophistication. Most debutantes on the social scene would scream with envy. But of course this is the second coming and, as such, it was orchestrated with a consummate eye for detail. An eye as flawless as the one that belongs to Clare Grogan.
Like Spandau she has seen the transition from cult to success and from success to failure; only to find that spring has unveiled a new cusp of brilliance and potential - an honour conveyed upon them not by the mouthings of the media but presumably by the fickle public speaking. Only in this case it wasn't so much as a shrill scream but a demure invitation. And its acceptance smacks of compliance to a strict dress code and the embracing of an effete ritual. It's the success of compromise. Stagnation.
RSVP Clare?
"We had started changing even before we brought Steve in. I think a lot of people are putting our change down to our new producers and the introduction of Steven ... but Johnny and Tony and I had already written (or half written) a couple of songs that went on 'Bite'. And we were talking about how we, kind of, wanted to subtly move away from what we'd been doing. As time went on we realised that maybe we couldn't do it subtly because nobody had any time for us. Then we decided we'd have to make it a bit more drastic.
"Groups move on," she continues with a certain fidelity. "Think of how Madness have moved on! Nobody really noticed the change, but now it's like black and white almost. Whereas we were in a position where we couldn't really do that. So finally we just had to come out and say, Na na na - we hate ribbons and we hate birthday cake! - you know? "One of the worst things that could have happened is we could have turned really nasty and gone overboard and tried to be dead smart. I think that would have been worse because that would have been going from one cliche to another. I could have come out in black leather biker's gear and started swearing - being really rude to people- just to prove a point. But it would have proved nothing in the end."
Then, what of survival in the charts?
"I think that the good thing about Britain and also a bad thing- is that the market is so fickle. Annie Lennox said this I think - and I agreed with her so much - you're as good as the single that you release at that time.
"I keep on trying to tell people that 'Pinky Blue' wasn't that much of a disaster," she says, almost imploring belief. Well, certainly not financially or saleswise. Artistically and creatively, we're not very proud of it - but we're certainly not ashamed of it. I think it was a good thing to do ... I'd've rather 'Pinky Blue' happened then than we tripped up later on. We could have gone on and on writing 'Happy Birthdays'."
Their own change isn't the only marked event in their short history - over the last year there has been an almost unprecedented backlash from the press. Indeed up until spring, Miss Taloolah Gosh had become the rag doll to pull to pieces: Baby Clare was an unwanted child.
Or as Ms Grogan recalls: "The music press really slagged us off. I'm quite proud to say that we got some of the world's worst reviews ever written. At the time it was really upsetting ... everybody likes praise ... they don't really like to be told that they're a pile of rubbish.
"We wanted to change as well - even before we read those reviews. They were nothing to do with our change," she adds with an air of disdain. "I'd hate to think that any journalist would flatter themselves by thinking that they'd been so perceptive that they'd written something and then it did come about. We'd been feeling that way for a long time - that we'd been doing something wrong. It was getting really pathetic, I can say so myself.
"But sometimes people forget how young we were . . ."
And this is the truth. Clare is the eldest member of the band, and yet she is only just 21. Still, you could be forgiven for thinking last year that she was only 12; I know I did.
So what brought on the change from school girl to working woman?
"Well ... I just felt so misrepresented ... and the worst thing was that I was beginning to play on it. And that I am ashamed of. I saw this screaming child on television and I thought, Clare, you fool, you fool…
"But it wasn't that bad - I don't think that it ruined my career permanently. I think it was a mistake that I walked into. It was a successful formula, people bought our records, we did a sellout tour this time last year. . ."
All this she remembers with a wistful smile and an air of casual acceptance. After all she is back in the charts to success ... even if all they can manage this year is a three date summer tour.
Still, this is the summer for 'Storm Music' and in particular the season for remembrance, for B-movies. And while the cover of 'Bite' with its studied nostalgia is far from sinister it is a symptom of the greater malaise. But who cares? Clare Grogan as a slightly plastic Audrey Hepburn is still a great image ...
That isn`t my new image'," the lady claims. "We decided we'd have to do something pretty drastic to make people realise that I wasn't going to parade about in ra-ra skirts for the rest of the century. And I'm not going to parade about in black evening gowns on tour!"
Are you sophisticated then? "Sophistication is a very misused word with us. I think we've matured a lot, but I'm nor sure if we're completely 'sophisticated' or anything. . ."
Well then, do you trade on sex?
"I just get really embarrassed by that. First and foremost I look on myself as being the lead singer with Altered Images - and not particularly a selling point. I just feel like one of the members of the group. I don't think I'm gonna be the next Debbie Harry and I don't think I use sex. I thought when I first came out that one of the things I wanted to be was quite 'sexless'.
"If I wanted to be 'sexy'," she adds, whilst adding some more make-up for the photos, "I think we could've done more riskier stuff than we've done. I don't think that we've ever crossed over into that pure sex thing . ."
But what of the sex kitten on the sleeve? "Doing the photo was like doing an acting part - it was just dressing up. It also represented that the group had grown up as well. I'd love to think of myself as the new Audrey Hepburn ... but I'm not going to flatter myself with it.
Then what does she see as the best-selling point of 'Bite'?
"Well, I think on 'Bite' we've made a real attempt to cross over ... slightly. I really believe that people who would never have even thought about Altered Images will go out and buy it. And enjoy it.
"Before we were treated as a 'jingle' group . . . last year we wrote hooks and this year we wrote songs. I think that is the difference."
And yet people still say, I hate Clare Grogan's voice?
"Well, I do think that I'm a love-hate personality. I've gotten to accept that. There s no in-between with me - and for along time there was no in-between with Altered Images. But now I think there is and it's up to me to grate less on !people. But I certainly don't do it intentionally, though I'm quite glad I grate on some people.
"I think people are overcritical of me - people over react to everything I do. It just proves how much attention they pay me - you know?"
Although her answers seem riddled with vanity they are not. Ostensibly, they are acknowledgements, and so she continues: "People are always picking up on everything I do - and they`re constantly winding themselves up about it. Just ignore it. If you don`t like it stay away" she stresses. "But they come back for more ...they're masochists!"
We laugh. After all, as Clare says: "It`s show business. I just want to entertain people."
What about the other levels? Would you write political songs?
"I just don't feel capable enough to write songs about that kind of thing. It's totally irrelevant … and maybe," she sighs, "If we all loved each other a lot more we wouldn't have to worry about right-wing Governments.
"I suppose as I experience life more the songs will become more mixed. But I just don't like people who write about things they know nothing about. I don't know anything about unemployment. I have never been poor, I don't know what it's really like to suffer, so who am I to write about that? I've never experienced it. And please God, I don't want to ... and it's not because I don't sympathise one million per cent with people who do. But I do think it's a bit bloody patronising to start writing songs about it..."
And there we finished, though I did take the time to ask: Is Taloolah Gosh dead? To which Clare replied: "No. Taloolah is still with me. She's in my bag. I carry her around now ... my alter-ego!"
It was a romantic rendezvous, but it's in someone else's imagination that the sophisticate lives on. Because as you can see Clare is still just plain Clare - for all the silks and sapphires . .