In light of a year that has seen the Manchester star rise once again from a brief exodus, I was lucky enough to interview one of its most loved descendants. With the more recent news about ‘The Happy Mondays’ new album, coupled with the mounting success of local band, ‘Rainband’, it was only right to interview a woman that has played a pivotal role in this renewed success, amongst various other projects in and around Manchester. In terms of music, she is the ‘Queen of Manchester’, the self confessed, ‘Ms Manchester’, which led her to change her surname to the city she adores.
Rowetta Manchester first shot to fame as the soulful backing vocalist on several ‘Happy Mondays’ tracks in the late 80s/early 90s, making her an instant cult hero. As with most of the bands from this generation, the 90s saw the limelight shine away from those that reinvented northern music. In 2004, Rowetta was thrust back into the public eye when she appeared on X Factor, successfully making the final four. Since then, her work has been backed with great interest. Releasing a solo album, appearing in musical theatre, hosting her own radio shows as well as collaborations with many upcoming bands and Peter Hook’s, ‘The Light’ project are just a few ventures she’s been involved with over the past few years.
With the ‘Mondays’ reforming to its original line-up, Rowetta has played an integral part in the success of the reunion tour. Looking as glamorous as always, she was pushed further forward on stage, more in the position of lead singer at times, and that distinct, powerful gospel voice gave the band a different dimension. It’s a hell of busy time for Rowetta at the moment and even though her heart lies with ‘The Mondays’, she still has the time to support her collaboration with ‘The Rainband’ whenever possible. Always being a source of inspiration and knowledge for up and coming artists, it was a privilege and an honour to interview such a grounded and vibrant character.
NIGE: Firstly, you’ve recently been on tour with The Happy Mondays, how excited were you to be back performing live with the band?
ROWETTA: I can't even begin to describe how it felt. Our last gig, before the reform, with the original line up, was November 1992 in Tokyo, so this was special.
NIGE: Did you ever think you would one day be reunited with the original line up? Is it something that deep down you hoped would happen?
ROWETTA: I really didn't think it was possible and honestly never allowed myself to even think about it. When asked, I'd always say that it couldn't happen, because I thought it had been left too long. I did miss working with the guys as a band and I missed singing the songs and Mondays' gigs.
NIGE: How did it differ being on tour this time round than back in the early 90s? Not as crazy I suppose?
ROWETTA: Everyone is older and wiser and there's a lot more respect for each other now. Also hardly anybody parties now. Most are family orientated and go home after gigs and a lot of the madness has gone. Everybody is getting on great and we're all enjoying the tour so much more with clear heads.
NIGE: What have been the stand out gigs up to now?
ROWETTA: Honestly every gig has been great. We kept waiting for a bad one on the tour, but it never came. A couple of technical problems at a couple of festivals, but the band are playing better than ever and are tighter. Shaun and I are singing better together than ever so we've really loved all the gigs; UK tour, Argentina, Chile, T In The Park and headlining Camp Bestival was wonderful. A seriously beautiful family festival. Loved it!
NIGE: How was playing in South America? Have you ever performed there before?
ROWETTA: We played Rock In Rio, Brazil in 1991 and that was amazing and I loved our shows this year in Argentina and Chile. The fans there are so warm and passionate about the music and about us. I would love to go back. We weren't there long enough.
NIGE: How did reforming impact on the other work you do at the moment with the radio station and featuring with other bands and their own tour dates?
ROWETTA: That is the only sad thing about the Mondays reforming. I loved what I was doing before with my radio show, solo gigs, dance tunes and collaborations with Peter Hook & The Light, The Rainband, China White, Fit Les and many others, but I’ve had very little time to do anything other than Mondays gigs. I had to give up my radio show, but I am going to make time to do some more writing and collaborating as I think it keeps everything fresh.
NIGE: It’s been recently announced that The Mondays will produce new material. Can you tell us a little bit of information about that?
ROWETTA: It's only just been decided and we have been non-stop gigging, but everyone is starting to work on ideas. There is no deadline, but I think everyone is hoping they'll be something in the first half of 2013. Everyone will be involved in the writing and they're still discussing who will produce. Everyone agrees though that it has to be quality.
NIGE: How do you think the album will differ from earlier material?
ROWETTA: We don't know that yet. I do know from the live shows that our reworkings of some of the older tunes are inspiring everyone, so it should still have the Mondays sound, but a lot will depend on the producer and what happens when everyone's ideas come together
NIGE: You’re not the first Mancunian band to recently reunite. I understand you’ve been watching and performing on the same bill as Stone Roses. What do you make of their reunion?
ROWETTA: I love it and all the new interest in us was because the Roses reformed, so we have a lot to thank them for there. We haven't actually performed on the same day as the Roses, anywhere, but we're playing some of the same festivals. I would love to do a gig with them. It would be amazing for the fans and I would love it too. I saw them twice at Heaton Park and more recently went to see them in Milan. They are phenomenal and really beautiful people too, so really happy for the lads, their families and the fans.
NIGE: Looking back before reuniting with The Happy Mondays, you feature on a lot of songs lately with various up and coming bands, is that something you actively sought or did these bands approach you?
ROWETTA: I'm approached almost daily by bands and producers from all over and I don't get to listen to them all, but I love working with local bands if I love the music, the people and think I can add to it. China White are from Warrington and The Rainband from Manchester. Love working with them and their songs are great. I just came back from a gig in Rome with The Rainband, opening for Simple Minds and was just with China White working on my friend Keith Allen's Fit Les Olympics project. For songwriting, I sometimes approach producers that I love, if they don't approach me first and I have written with some of my favourites.
NIGE: Which up and coming Manchester bands would you recommend and who are the ones you think can push to the next level?
ROWETTA: The Janice Graham Band, Jessie Rose Trip, The Quangos and of course The Rainband, China White and Ren Hervieu who’s voice and songs I adore. All could be and should be massive!
NIGE: You’re involved in so much at the moment, is there anything else apart The Happy Mondays reunion gigs/album that is exciting you in the near future?
ROWETTA: Yes, I have a single out that I wrote with The Kino Club called ‘So Sweet’. The video is on YouTube and you can get it at all the usual online stores or if you prefer a CD, you can get it on that too. I think it's one of the best songs I've written.
NIGE: Do you have any plans for another solo album?
ROWETTA: I hope to do much more writing. I do many dance tunes, but I would like to write more songs like So Sweet. I'm also hoping to get permission to use a sample of Reef's, ‘Place Your Hands’ for a song I've written called Manchester Rain. I would like that to be the title track. Got my working title for the album "Ms Manchester" and if I ever write a book, which I'm asked to a lot, I think I'd call the book the same.
NIGE: You recently changed your name to Rowetta Manchester, how has that been received? How did the decision come about?
ROWETTA: To be honest I just hated my surname because it was my ex-husband's and have always asked people to just use my first name as it is unusual.They still use the surname, unfortunately, so I wanted to change it. I was performing at Manchester Pride in 2011 and had sashes made up for my mum and I (my mum dances with me at Pride) "Ms Manchester" for me and "Manchester Mum" for my mum. Dianne Bourne from the Manchester Evening News asked me if I was changing my name and I decided there and then that it would be a great name to change it to, from a name I hated to one I love, "Manchester."
NIGE: I’ve heard you say that no one loves Manchester more than you – why do you think it’s such a special place?
ROWETTA: I love everything about it, even the weather. It's just special to me, because it's home. My life is here. I feel safe here. I love it with all my heart and I've never been anywhere else. No matter how beautiful, nothing has made me want to move away.
NIGE: What in your opinion was the best song and band to come out of the ‘Madchester’ era?
ROWETTA: I love Atmosphere - Joy Division which is before that era. Ian Curtis' lyrics, melody, timing are stunning. I feel honoured every time I sing it. I couldn't choose any others as I have so many favourites from the Mondays, the Roses and so many of the great bands. There really is something special about Manchester and you hear it in the music, especially from the Madchester era.
NIGE: What was the best moment from that era?
ROWETTA: I'm lucky I had so many, I honestly couldn't choose one. We were blessed with the best club in the world, the Hacienda and the best music and we had the best mentor in Tony Wilson.
NIGE: Finally, you’ve had quite a colourful and diverse career up to now with The Happy Mondays, X Factor, featuring with many newer bands, solo career, theatre, and the radio show, but what has been the highlight and the most enjoyable time for you?
ROWETTA: I loved it all and I'm loving doing it all again. Honestly every time I'm on stage is a new highlight. When that stops, I'll start looking back, but not till then.
Interview by Nigel Cartner
Photos supplied by Rowetta