■ The singer, 56, was half of 1980s sister duo Mel And Kim. She talks about her Pop past and TV show Smashing Hits
What’s Smashing Hits about?
It’s about how diverse the music coming out of the UK in the 1980s was and how different parts of the UK created their own sound — there was a lot of electronica in Sheffield, Coventry was producing ska, then the dance scenes in London and Manchester. It’s about how great this island was at producing pop music in the 1980s.
Who did you like at the time?
I was a huge Gary Numan fan — and Depeche Mode. Gary Numan was a brilliant pop star. The look was fantastic and the songs still stand up today. It’s classic pop writing.
Do you remember your first Top Of The Pops?
I’ll never forget it — we were so terrified, we thought we’d forget the dance routine. Our single Showing Out was at number 44 and the rules were you’d only get on Top Of The Pops if you were in the top 40. Boy George was supposed to do the show but dropped out and one of the producers was a fan of our track and got us on, even though we weren’t in the top 40. It all flew from there. We were travelling everywhere, meeting people — we bumped into Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet a lot in Europe. It was a happy time. The 1980s was a special decade for creativity. It was so diverse in music, fashion and art. Everyone worked quite hard at being an individual.
You were one of the first acts to have hits with Stock Aitken Waterman
Yes, they’d never met girls like us before. We recorded a ballad and then we all went down the pub and they asked us loads of questions about where we lived and what we did in our spare time. They didn’t know where Hackney was, they were blown away by our Cockney accents and they realised they had two young streetwise girls in front of them. Pete Waterman said they went back to the studio, put everything they’d done aside and came up with something with a bit of attitude.
Did it help that you were among the first to work with them?
The ‘Hit Factory’ and all of that came 18 months later. With the Mel And Kim sound, it was written around us. We inspired them with our club roots and the lyrics relate to us. Respectable was about when Melanie’s glamour modelling pictures came out in the papers. They were surprised by how we handled that. We were like: ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’ Which is where the lyrics ‘take or leave us… We ain’t ever gonna be respectable’ came from. They wanted to make their mark and we had them to ourselves. It wasn’t until later that they were working with Kylie and everyone. Pete says in the show that without Mel And Kim there wouldn’t be Stock Aitken Waterman because we gave them that bit of attitude, which was lovely to hear.
Was it a difficult decision to pursue a solo career?
No, I was driven. When Mel was ill I had a studio at home and we wrote demos. We used the time creatively and it was good for Melanie to do something else while dealing with the cancer treatment and hospitals. When Mel passed away most of the songs that ended up on my first album had been written and we’d done them together. It was going to be a Mel And Kim album.
Have you missed performing?
I took a sabbatical — which turned out to be a very long one. I was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 1991 and joined the panel a couple of years later. I ended up working with them for 15 years and writing for other people. It wasn’t until last year, when Martyn Ware from Heaven 17 asked me to appear with his British Electric Foundation, that I started performing again for the first time in 25 years. I was very nervous but I’m a huge fan of his. I’d been asked many times over the years but I didn’t want to replicate what I did with Melanie — but I spoke to my mum, who said she’d have wanted me to do it. So I do my own set now and I’m having a blast. The crowds are incredible. There’s a lot of love out there for Melanie and myself.
How influential were Mel And Kim? Would there have been a Spice Girls without you?
There will always be girl bands. The difference with Mel and myself was we were the real deal. What you saw was what you got. Mel and I didn’t need to shout about girl power. We were two very independent, streetwise girls with a good sense of humour and we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. It all goes in circles. Me and Mel first sang together because Mel met a producer who thought there hadn’t been a girl duo for a while — but with us being sisters the whole thing was very authentic.
Will you be recording again?
I wrote 16 tracks in the Pyrenees last year. I’m taking it one day at a time. I want to ease myself into it. I need a producer first.
Smashing Hits! The 80s Pop Map Of Britain And Ireland is on BBC4 tonight at 10pm