Mari Wilson on her return to pop
The Queen of retro pop talks transvestites, Amy Winehouse’s wig and why Crouch End beats Beverley Hills
EIGHTIES songstress Mari Wilson is returning to her pop roots only to discover her infectiously camp beats has made her a big hit on the gay clubbing circuit.
The Crouch End icon, famous for her foot-high blonde hairdo that earned her the nickname Miss Beehive, has stepped back from the “snobby” jazz scene to create a dance riff reminiscent of her earlier years.
And with new single O.I.C - a catchy collaboration with disco producers BoiSounds - set to become the feel good hit of the spring, the 56-year-old is now more likely to be seen rubbing shoulders with transvestites than crooning with her jazz band.
Fresh from a show at legendary cabaret night Tranny Shack at Soho nightclub Madame Jojo’s, she says: “That gig was hilarious and it was so much fun being around all these drag queens. The more make-up they had on, the more I put on. They always look so gorgeous with their beautiful skin and long legs - all the things that women really want!
“My partner (TV producer Mal Young) was with me and he said it was really messing with his head, but you just have to remember that underneath that dress is a penis.
“O.I.C is a camp song, which is not surprising coming from me. I’ve always had quite a big gay following but since doing this track it’s gone crazy. My old fans seem to like it when I’m like this.”
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Despite cementing her status as a pop icon in the early 80s, when she burst onto the scene with a gloriously quirky style and shamelessly fun pop tunes likes Just What I Always Wanted, it was jazz that was the defining genre of her continuing years in the spotlight, performing with her twelve piece band The Wilsations at venues like Ronnie Scott’s and festivals alongside jazz heavyweights BB King and Ray Charles.
But pop has always remained her one true love, growing up on a diet of Dusty Springfield, The Beach Boys and The Pretenders, describing the latter’s hit Don’t Get Me Wrong as the “perfect record”.
“How I ended up doing jazz was a fluke”, she says. “In a way that gave me the voice I’ve got now, so it was a good thing. But jazz can be very snobby - they’ll look down their noses at it but pop music takes a lot of hard work and it takes a lot of intelligence to create a good pop song. It’s a great thing that it sounds so easy, but you’ve got to be pretty clever to write a song like Yesterday.”
So how has pop changed since 80s glamour was the real deal and not a retro revival?
“When I started out it was unusual to be involved in music,” she says. “But now everybody and their brother is in a band, which is a good thing. People can now make records in their bedrooms, but in the past it was very expensive and you had to have the backing of a record company.
“I think if there is a negative it’s the fact that kids want to be famous for anything. When I was making records it wasn’t this world of celebrity there is now.
“Pop music has always been about being young and that’s fair enough but it’s the very very young that is worrying. When you look at shows like X Factor we’re now getting people with no experience of standing on stage performing in front of audiences at Wembley - they’ve never even played in a pub and that must be terrifying.”
And what about Amy Winehouse stealing her beehive crown?
“Well her’s is a wig,” she says. “No-one has got that much hair! Amy always looks a bit of a mess but what a fantastic singer she is. I like her style but I just wish she wasn’t such a mess. I don’t know if she was inspired by my look at all, but we’re both north London girls so we’ve got something in common.”
Mari has lived in Crouch End, in a house overlooking Priory Park with Mal and their three children, for 26 years. But the family also divide their time between London and Beverley Hills - in a pad within the infamous 90210 postcode - where Mal’s work with former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller keeps him Stateside.
“It sounds glamourous but when you can’t get a bus or a tube to get around the city, or pop out to buy a bottle of milk in the middle of the night, it does drive you a bit mad.
“I love Crouch End - I love the fact you can walk everywhere and it’s such a villagey feel. I probably buy most of my clothes in the boutiques there as well.”
Mari’s single O.I.C is available to download on iTunes this week. As well as gigs to promote the single and her own album Emotional Glamour, she will also be touring with her musical show Girl Talk at London venues throughout March and April.