Strictly Westport: Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s heading to Mayo

Best known for classic dance hits Groovejet and Murder On the Dancefloor, Sophie Ellis-Bexto has other musical irons in the fire these days. The Westport-bound Strictly Come Dancing star talks about going east on new album Wanderlust

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN - OCTOBER 04: British Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor performs live during a concert at The Palace of International Forums on October 4, 2012 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (Photo by Yves Forestier/Getty Images for Style.Uz Art Week)

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN - OCTOBER 04: British Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor performs live during a concert at The Palace of International Forums on October 4, 2012 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (Photo by Yves Forestier/Getty Images for Style.Uz Art Week)

 

It’s that time of year again. The sun appears in the sky for a nanosecond – or longer – and radio DJs everywhere reach for the tunes that scream summer. One of those tried and tested tracks which always gets an outing on these occasions is Spiller’s Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love). If you’ve heard that on a passing radio in the past few weeks, you’ve heard Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

“It’s an amazing thing, it really still is,” she says of the 2000 track which starred her vocals and put the former indie singer in the mainstream limelight.

“I was always of the mind that I should just enjoy it and people’s reaction to it, even when it initially came out. It didn’t matter too much about the chart position, but I used to think that it would be amazing if the song was always played on the radio when the sun came out and that’s still the case I’m glad to see.”

Her debut album the following year Read My Lips produced another monster club and radio favourite in the shape of Murder on the Dancefloor and Ellis-Bextor seemed set for life as a disco diva of distinction. A lot has gone on in Ellis-Bextor’s world since then, including four more solo albums, a spot of dancing on prime-time TV and a hell of a lot of touring.

Ellis-Bextor’s latest album is Wanderlust and its sound owes a little to the touring which regularly took her to eastern Europe and Russia. Instead of songs for the dancefloor, Ellis-Bextor and her collaborator and producer Ed Harcourt this time used sweeping strings and pianos to create a dramatic, moody collection of songs full of grandeur and melancholy.

“I’ve always gone where people want to see me so I think a lot of bookings just happened to come in from Russia and eastern Europe, where they have a very healthy dance scene,” she says about her popularity there.

However, her decision to try a new tack on the album was not determined by geography alone. “I’ve never been very good at gauging what’s going to work and not going to work with an audience,” she says. “I wasn’t really sure at the beginning if Wanderlust would work there, because it’s got so many Balkan sounds on it that the Russians might think ‘gosh, that doesn’t sound anything like us’.”

After a few albums aimed at the dancefloor, Ellis-Bextor wanted to try something new. “You can only ever do what feels right at the time, and after the last record, which was quite dancey, I felt it was time to push it the completely other way, not do anything bouncy or disco and see what happens. From quite early on with Wanderlust, we were going for this Eastern sound, quite theatrical and folk.

“Dance music had just became a genre that people liked me to do and expected me to do and I suppose it was a nice kind of stereotyping. It wasn’t a calculated move at all to change. In fact, I thought it might sink without a trace because I wasn’t sure if people were into the idea of hearing something that radically different from me.”

She met Harcourt via family connections – his musician wife Gita had worked on an album for The Feeling, the band featuring Ellis-Bextor’s husband Richard Jones – and he’s now part of her band.

“I’m glad it worked out because we were family friends first as we have kids who are the same age. I’ve written with so many people before and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But the best thing about that is that you still end up with a song at the end of it, even if it’s a song you don’t use in the end. At least, you’ve had a go and produced something.” Wanderlust wasn’t the only break from the old routine last year. Ellis-Bextor ended up as a contestant on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing TV show. Did she say yes right away to showing off her prowess at the Charleston and foxtrot?

“I definitely gave it a lot of thought because it’s a big deal and it demands a lot of yourself and especially your family. I also had to put my music on the back burner for a while. But last year with both Strictly and the album, all those decisions were made with the same part of my brain. I just wanted to do something that was different and challenging.

“It’s good to take yourself out of your familiar surroundings to see what you’re capable of, and Strictly was definitely that. It really helps if you’re quite fit to begin with or otherwise it’s a shock to the system. At the end, you’re definitely feeling a bit grim. The lovely thing about dancing is that it uses all of your muscles all the time – it’s not like you’re a swimmer – so a nice bit of toning happens. But you can’t keep it up for that long with that intensity and you have to eventually return to your normal life.”

Ellis-Bextor’s first public musical outing was as a member of Britpop band Theaudience in the 1990s. Seeing as there’s a lot of nostalgia this weather about that musical movement 20 years on, what are her thoughts on Britpop now?

“Theaudience were around for the last gasp of Britpop really in the late 1990s, and Britpop was kind of leaving the building when we were going in. But when Britpop was at its height, it was really exciting and cool for my generation. I was in school at the time and I remember really getting into lots of music. At the start, it was stuff that my parents were into, so Britpop was my music and came along at the right time. It was a great time to be growing up in London and being into music because there was so much happening.”

Sophie Ellis-Bextor plays the Westport Festival on June 29th

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