How We Met: Neil Davidge & Sandie Shaw: 'She stuck her tongue in my ear. That broke the ice'

 

Sandie Shaw, 67

As one of the most successful British singers of the 1960s, Shaw's hit singles included 'Always Something There to Remind Me' and 'Long Live Love'. Shaw was also the first British act to win the Eurovision Song Contest, with 'Puppet on a String'. She lives with her husband in London

I knew Neil's uncle, Roger [Greenaway], in the 1970s; he was the biggest songwriter for the band Blue Mink, and I did some songs with him – but I didn't make any connection between them until I met Neil 40 years later.

I don't like to repeat myself creatively, so a few years ago I was looking to work with someone new, while not being a frontperson. I had two people on my list: one was Nigel Godrich, who works with Radiohead, the other was Neil, as I loved the work he'd done with Massive Attack. I remember thinking, why would he work with me? Turns out, Neil had done his own list and I was on it; alongside lots of dead artists, I was the alive one!

I went to Bristol to his studio to record one of his song lyrics that he'd sent me, and we finally met face to face. I love men who notice what I'm wearing and I remember that I had my snow boots with sequins on – and he couldn't stop commenting on them, so I knew he'd be a good guy. He didn't mention Eurovision once, bless his heart. It happened in 1967, when I was so young. I think if he'd mentioned it I might have walked out!

He has an extraordinary studio there; he makes these strange things he calls instruments, but they're not proper instruments, though he makes all sorts of wonderful sounds with them. We got nattering straight away: he lives in a fantasy world – both of us do – and we both think of music in terms of landscapes, textures or scenes from movies; in that way, we're kind of a perfect match. When you have a rapport with someone, work happens quickly, so we spent most of our time talking.

He's always asking me about my life, and I've told him the underbelly of it rather than the public version: there's loads of things I've been in the middle of and he was astonished at how many dictators I've sung for – Franco, Pinochet, even the Shah [of Iran].

I like to have a drink, but after working – not before – as I need to concentrate, and he's the same. But that's different to what he used to do with Massive Attack. He said everyone [in the group] would turn up, get drunk and stoned and then he couldn't get them to work; they'd be passed out on the floor, leaving him to do the work; I don't know how he managed to deal with that.

I did retire – and I have retired from all that [solo] Sandie Shaw stuff. I also don't want be around toxic people any more – after I worked with the Smiths I didn't want to work at all – but Neil has given me a good laugh, so now I'm keen to do a collaboration again.

Neil Davidge, 52

The record producer, composer and songwriter was a crucial part of the trip-hop band Massive Attack, producing and co-writing their most successful album, 'Mezzanine'. He has also worked with artists from Damon Albarn to David Bowie. He released his debut solo album, 'Slo Light', in March. He lives in Bristol with his wife and two children

I have distant memories of Sandie lodged in my brain from when I was a kid, as my uncle and her were good friends. A couple of years ago I was thinking of people I wanted to work with on my solo album and she was on that list, as I grew up listening to her as a teen. I was into Siouxsie and the Banshees and Gang of Four, and in some ways I see Sandie as the first punk chick. She's got that same attitude, and even meeting her when she was much older, she's still got the same attitude.

We had a few conversations on the phone and by email about the track I wanted her to do and, after a two-year pause, while I was doing an instrumental soundtrack for [the computer game] Halo, Sandie came to Bristol.

A key moment for me was when we were taking a photo for the album. Up until that moment I was working with Sandie Shaw, the legend. Then she suddenly put her arms around me, stuck her tongue in my ear, and they took the photo. It broke the ice and after that, we just chatted, about music and films.

Massive Attack have always been dysfunctional, it's part of what makes them unique, but they need at least three years to make an album. But with Sandie, she'd already done her prep, came into the studio, launched into it and we had it within an hour. For our song, I imagined a barefooted Sandie from the 1960s in her white dress, but walking through a crowd of rioting people and burning cars. I'm lucky to have worked with someone who has the same urgency to capture an idea as I do.

She's told me loads of stories about her life; when singing for Franco as a teenager, she was like, "No I'm not going to go on unless you pay me up front." Imagine the balls it took for a young woman to do that in the 1960s, when women were still [expected to be] submissive.

She's also recorded some of the greatest pop records ever – I'm thinking "Always Something There to Remind Me" and "Girl Don't Come", though not "Puppet on a String". But I've known a number of people who've tried the Eurovision route – and it's fair enough; there are things you have to do in this industry to solidify your position.

Sandie is forever young, with an enormous spirit that fills the room and, whenever she's down in Bristol, it feels like her energy fuels the whole city; if I had her energy, I would be unstoppable. She's now also a psychotherapist and she buys houses and does them up; she's so busy I wonder why, after all these years, she can be bothered with music.

The single 'Riot Pictures' by Neil Davidge, featuring Sandie Shaw, is released through 7HZ on 6 October (neildavidge.com)

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