Interview: Jimmy Somerville, 'Even cheesy disco songs have great messages'
Former Bronski Beat/Communards frontman talks about his new album, 80s nostalgia and growing up gay
This article is from 2015.
Jimmy Somerville, erstwhile frontman of Bronski Beat and The Communards, has kept a low profile over the past two decades but now he’s back on the dancefloor with Homage, a new album of originals celebrating his love of disco
What was your first exposure to disco?
I started sneaking into some of the gay clubs in Glasgow when I was a teenager. It was very much an underground scene, because Glasgow in the 70s was a hard city. There were some amazing disco tracks and even some of the cheesy ones have great messages. Long before the Village People did 'YMCA’, they did this song called ‘Village People’ which is all about visibility and a celebration of sexuality. I remember this song by Carl Bean called ‘I Was Born This Way’. The chorus is ‘I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay, I was born this way’. I was completely hooked.
And why do you keep coming back for more?
I think we can dismiss disco because we associate it with office parties and polyester flares and terrible nylon wigs so it gets this label of being a bit throwaway but what I experienced during the making of this album was that when musicians were coming on board and heard the songs, they got really into it and they gave something of themselves and I think that’s why that genre has travelled through the decades because when you listen to it you do connect to something really joyous that’s happening within it.
You’ve performed on the Here and Now tour. How do you feel about the 1980s nostalgia market?
There’s a cheesy element to the 80s. People like Duran Duran were a big production but it was a nothingness. That’s just my personal opinion. But there was another element of the 80s which was wrapped up in politics and a youth, art and cultural explosion and I’m quite pleased that I was part of that because that really did influence my music and how I progressed.
'Smalltown Boy' was an anthem of those times – how has it aged?
It’s not my song anymore. We wrote that 31 years ago and of course I’m connected to it but it has its own little life and still continues to connect to people. I think there’s a lot of honesty in that track. ‘Smalltown Boy’ was about leaving Glasgow but it was also about the people I had come to meet on my journey, especially when I was squatting in London. These people had come from all over the country because London was the place to go if you were young, gay and needed to find your identity.
Is it any easier being a gay teenager now?
There’s still that schoolyard stigma. There is always going to be someone who feels they have the right to wait around the corner with a massive stick to whack someone over the head because of their sexuality. But they also feel they have the right to do that because of the colour of their skin.
We still have this culture, this attitude as human beings that there are people who are ‘less than’. When you grow up with constantly being told or made to feel that you are less than, then it’s very difficult to grow into an adult and to shake that off. For a lot of kids who don’t have that inner strength and who are sensitive, it’s very damaging. It has to start from the playground and parents teaching kids that diversity is what makes us so wonderful.
Homage is out on Mon 9 Mar.