Musician: LULU
Music Video: “Faith in You


Lulu started young, as a 15 year-old Scottish soul sensation. No wonder James Brown said, “The first time I heard her sing, I knew we were born in the same pond.”

Probably best known in America for her 1967 number one “To Sir With Love,” (also starring with Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love), 1969 soulful “Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby), 1974 James Bond theme “The Man with the Golden Gun,” the Bowie collaboration “The Man Who Sold the World,” and the 1993 hit “Relight My Fire” with Take That.
Born into the tough world of Glasgow’s working class tenements in 1948, she was raised plain Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie. And after 51 years in the music business, she seems to have an amazing attitude to music and life.

Her most recent album, Making Life Rhyme, contains songs she has written—and gives us a glimpse of where she is not in her life. She is content, happy and she wants to keep moving forward. “I am grateful to be where I am,” she says. “I am one of the luckiest people.”

As Elton John says, “Lu is one of the great vocalists that the UK has produced. She is sounding better than ever. Her love of current music and artists has kept her relevant, and, she is held in high esteem from the great vocalists of her time and the present day.”

Lulu is set for a 40-date tour in 2017, and she plays B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York this Monday, May 30, 2017. Her stellar band includes Geoff Dugmore (drums), Louis Riccardi (guitars/vocals), Darren Hodson (guitars/vocals), Rick Krivey (keyboards/vocals), and Jordan Brooks (bass).

We talked with Lulu about her amazing career in music, and that wonderful perspective she has gained through time and experience—her gratitude. We truly hope you are lucky enough to see her perform live.


LULU Web-Exclusive Interview

with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David

Tell us about your musical roots.
My musical root is all American. Never anything English—ever. I was a teenager when the Beatles came out. This was all pre-Beatles. I only watched American movies—only bought American records. From a very early age, my ears were trained on American music. My first hit record was “Shout,” which was an Isley Brothers song. Then, interestingly enough, I’m in a movie with Sidney Poitier, and it’s about black Americans. What’s more is that I was able to act in such a landmark movie. Let’s face it—you couldn’t have made that movie in America. Back then, they didn’t usually have records from films. I sang this song in the film, and it made it up the charts. I’ve had an amazing career.

So wonderful to hear you’ll be performing at B.B. King’s this Monday.
I was invited to play the B.B. King blues club in America—by a few interesting American musicians. Just to do a show there, it made me think more about going back to my roots. It’s not that I’m a blues singer, but I was influenced by these amazing musicians.
Which musicians?

Ray Charles was the first person to really knock my head off. He was my god. I loved Bobby Darin because he was a white guy who could sound like Ray Charles. All my influences were Big Mama Thornton, Stax and Motown. It really comes from gospel—black American gospel music. It rolls a little into country, a little into rock ’n’ roll. Well, a lot into tock ‘’n’ roll—that whole mixture. When I made my first record, “Shout,” I would sing it more like the Isley Brothers. They would make it very short. It would have to be three minutes—to be able to be played on the radio. First album Shout—short 3-min songs. I became a pop singer.

Tell us how the album, Making Life Rhyme, evolved.
I did a few clubs, working with my band—my drummer Geoff [Dugmore] spoke to a lot of musician friends saying “She’s got to do an album a little bit more like where she came from.” And that’s really how it started. I started writing songs very late. We did a demo of a few blues songs, and my manager took it to the record company. There was one particular song in there that I had recorded before. They said, we like the new songs better than the old ones. So it didn’t turn out to be a blues album after all. Strange, isn’t it?

When did you start writing songs?
My brother and I write together. The first song I ever wrote with him was a big hit for Tina Turner all over the world in 1993. It was called “I Don’t Wanna Fight.” I had been through a very dark period in my life, where I was getting divorced. I literally thought … (pauses) I was in a very dark place. Someone close to me said, ‘what are you going to do now.’ As John Miles said (sings), ‘Music was my first love, and it will be my last.’ That’s a very good song for most musicians. I said, ‘I wanna get back into the recording business.’ He said, ‘Well you’re going to have to write.’ I thought—I can’t write—because my brother [Billy Lawrie] is a writer, and he’s had a lot of success with it. Sade actually showed “I Don’t Wanna Fight” to Tina because they were making a movie [What’s Love Got to Do with It] and they were looking for a single. She hadn’t had a hit record in America for a long time. This song was huge for her all over the world. Somebody told me Tina said, ‘That’s my life story—that’s my life.’ I thought, ‘Honey, it’s my life, not yours.’ (Laughs) But I would never say that to her. I love her to death. What a fabulous thing she did for me—because then people looked at me differently.


Tell us about your early life.
Billy’s in publishing. He’s co-written with so many people. He’s a music man. Our family is very musical. My father wasn’t a professional singer but he had a voice like Pavarotti. Where I come from everybody sings. (Laughs) In Scotland, you sit around at parties and everybody has to take a turn singing. I come from a working class background—was not sophisticated in any way. I left school just before I was 15. I certainly didn’t have a formal education. You might say that I was self-educated. I was 15 when I had my first hit record.

What was that first hit record?
“Shout”—by the Isley Brothers. (Sings the song) That was here—in this country. When I walk down the street, and people go (sings) ‘Well … you make me wanna …’ People sing as I pass them by. In America, they know me more for “To Sir with Love.” But I had a lot of hit records before that. I think I was 16 when I did the movie, and the record came out when I was 17. I had already had two years of a very busy singing career.

Tell us about the song “Faith in You.”
The whole album is me talking about how I see my life. I’ve been around for a long time, and worked with some of the greats—Elton John, Paul McCartney, David Bowie. Today I realize it’s an industry mainly for young people. It’s very hard to keep your head above water, to sustain—to be relevant for so many decades. You have to have a life—and I have had a life. I have been up. I have been down. I have had tremendous success and failures. I have been married twice. I have a son and two grandchildren. I’m still doing this because I love it.

Lulu-2How have you found balance?
When it comes to writing, I’ve done a lot of introspection with a great master of yoga since 1984. I read every self-help book out there. I’ve really gone inside, and I’ve changed over the years. The one constant is the music. I found a voice. I’m able to talk about how grateful I am. With my shows, I am able to talk more—and better than I ever did before. I’m not a great talker, but it’s more authentic now. It’s having had experience. My experience is in this album. And it’s a good story. Some people ask, ‘Why did you choose to sing … (sings) I’m a poor Wayfaring Stranger, travelin’ through this world of woe…’ It’s because I am the age I am. When you’re young famous pop singer, you think you’re invincible. But life teaches you—that you’re not. I’ve lived, and I put it all in this album. Even the song “Cry” about men not being able to cry—not to have tears—unable to relate to different things in life. At the same time, not just miserable but optimistic and grateful for what I’ve got—and it’s a happy story. In the end, I have survived. A lot of my peers are not around anymore. I have a real deep gratitude for what I have today.

It comes with the wisdom of time.
Only experience! I’m always up for listening to young musicians. My band is young. But they also have this appreciation for what came before them. There’s only one other female singer in this country that was really driven by the music the way I was—Dusty Springfield. She’s the one woman I related to in this country. But I much preferred male singers to female singers. I hated that soprano voice. I much prefer Bonnie Raitt. I related more to the bands. I was only influenced by black American music. And then the Beatles came along. They (and the Rolling Stones) were influenced by the same people I was influenced by. And today, Etta James, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Bruno Mars—he is like a Motown revue. From back then until now, there are still young musicians where I can hear that basic influence. I think it’s fascinating. I found myself in Muscle Shoals working with Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin and Jerry Wexler. Duane Allman played on the album. I had Dr. John. It was pretty incredible of who all I’ve gotten to work with.

What made you want to write songs?
It was basically my brother told me I had to. I hadn’t made an album for several years, and he said, ‘You’ve got to write songs.’ It was really necessity being the mother of invention. Then Wynonna Judd recorded a song. Cher held a song for a year. But it’s kind of great that it opened a door for me. I used to look at the songs mostly from the outside, and now I find them on the inside. It’s amazing to have had that rebirth. I think you have to love what you do. You can’t give up. Music makes the blood course through my veins.

Lulu-3Do you write with instruments?
No. It’s just my voice, and my ears. You’ve either got ears or you don’t. You can train your ears, and you can train your eye. But it’s something really that you have. My brother, Billy, is the same way. He is so creative. Elton and Billy are the only two people I know who will make up a song instantly. They don’t even have to sit at a piano—either of them.

Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
I was just 15 years old—hard to take it in. When all this stuff was going on with me back then, I wasn’t even present. I was rushing ahead of myself. People have to remind me of things that happened back then. I was so young, and there was so much going on. It was a bit of a whirlwind. I’m not laid back. I had to start meditating in 1984 because I needed to do it. I was probably looking for it in the 60s.

Tell us how meditating helped.
I meditate every day. It grounds me. There’s an amazing book, The Untethered Soul. It explains the need for meditation. You get that awakening—you have more of a desire to live a yogic way of life. So my whole life now is really about service. Before I do anything, I pray—let me just do your will. It isn’t something that I talk to everybody about. But it grounded my life and has guided my life. It’s all part and parcel of life. I have a very spiritual life. The music, the making of music, having gratitude and being able to give it—it’s all part of who I am. When you get so much, like I’ve had in my life—then you have to give it. You can only keep it, if you give it. I am so thrilled to get up and have the energy. I love what I do, I’m grateful to be where I am. I am really one of the luckiest people.

Top 5 Musicians who inspired you to become a musician?
The top of the list is Ray Charles. It’s hard to follow him. I always loved B.B. King, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Mama Thornton. I also loved Ella Fitzgerald—my parents used to play Ella. Then I got into Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine. I loved gospel. Etta James. I love Brenda Lee’s voice because I didn’t like girly voices. Carla and Rufus Thomas. Anything from Motown and anything from Stax—all of that music.

Lulu-4What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?
Ray Charles—every part of him—whether it was country and western, gospel, or that duet with Betty Carter (sings both parts) “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” From that to “What’d I Say”—he was a country singer, a bluesy jazz singer, gospel, a great piano player and band leader. And the Raelettes—oh my, I would wear that out. My father was not a fan. No. He’d say, ‘What is that noise? That man’s in a lot of pain.’ (Laughs) He didn’t know what he didn’t know. Definitely every Ray Charles record—(sings) ‘night and day”—“I believe to my soul.’ I just wore all those records down.

Tell us about a time you recorded or played live on stage with someone you admired.
We took one of Macca’s [Paul McCartney’s] songs. My brother and another young guy and I were messing around with it: (sings) ‘Someone’s knockin’ at the door, somebody’s ringin’ the bell.’ We changed it around, and put a little rap in it. I let Macca hear it, and he said, ‘Gee, you make me sound cool. (Laughs)’ I said, ‘Could you come in and sing a little bit?’ And there he was with me in the studio. I was thinking ‘This is crazy. He never lets people rewrite his songs.’ Another one of those moments was when I was on Saturday night television all the time. I didn’t think I was cool, and David Bowie, at the time he was doing Ziggy Stardust, wanted to record with me because he loved my voice. There I was—working with David Bowie, and I thought this is the weirdest thing. We’re like the oddest couple.’ The one thing that united us is music. “The Man Who Sold the World” was huge over here but I don’t think it came out over there in the States.

How was the song “To Sir with Love” written?
I was very disappointed when I agreed to do the film. My manager insisted that I sing the title song. But they couldn’t care less. It didn’t matter to them, but it mattered to me. They played me some rubbish songs I was in tears about. So I literally sat down with Mark London, and made him write. We sent the script to Don Black. Mark and I knew him. We knew how great he was as a lyricist. We were desperate to get something that was right—feel like it was handmade. We did it in Holland Park. We sat at Marion’s [Massey] piano—in her front room. I said, ‘please, let me sit here with you—you can write something.’

Lulu-6So you helped.
If I go over some of the biggest songs in my career—I brought to the table. “Oh Me Oh My” was from a young Scottish writer from Glasgow—that first album I did with Jerry, Tom and Arif. It was the hit on it. Aretha says it’s one of her favorite songs of all time. “I Don’t Wanna Fight”—a lot of the songs I’ve gotten recognition for. That’s why my brother said to me—of course you can write songs. You know exactly what’s right. More than that, you know what’s not right.

Best advice someone has given you.
Elton John, many years ago—I must have been in my 40s: ‘You must never stop touring. You always have to keep doing that live stuff. It’s what you’re made for.’ It’s who I am. People go, ‘Oh, you still work.’ I say, ‘yeah, this is what I do.’ People are surprised because I’ve been around for so long. When you’re not on TV every week, which I was a lot during my early career—I’m sure some people think you died. (Laughs) When you’re not on TV, they don’t even know you’re alive anymore. People are still curious—why do you still do it after all these years? Because I love it! This is what I do. This is who I am. I am getting older, no doubt about it, but I have the spirit of a teenager.

Best advice you’d like to give upcoming musicians.
If you love music—it’s one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever be given. Love music, keep doing it and enjoy it. I think if you got it, you have to keep doing it. And that’s what Elton meant when he said that to me.

What’s next?
I’m still doing music. I am all business. This is what I want—what I love. I’m coming to America—doing this thing at B.B. King’s, and a few other dates, because I’m doing what I want. It’s kind of sweet.

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