Marc Almond: ‘I Feel So Blessed To Have Lived To See This Day’

As the frontman of the pop duo Soft Cell, singer Marc Almond still has one of the most recognisable voices in British pop.

The synthpop act enjoyed a string of hits in the 80s, but it’s their signature track Tainted Love that they’re still best remembered for, with the song continuing to receive constant play on the radio and in clubs around the world.

I suppose 80s music still resonates today because of the sweet naivety and emotion that came from so much creativity, combined with the visual excitement,” Marc says.

“It was unashamedly fun, hedonistic, sometimes political and often had an anthem of liberation to it in such repressive times.”

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Marc Almond in 1981

Fin Costello via Getty Images

“It was a time when things were truly new for everyone, not just for one generation,” Marc adds of the 80s, as he gears up for a special ‘Live From The Upside Down’ concert in collaboration with Stranger Things and Doritos.

“So it’s great that there are new young artists embracing it and reimagining it.”

In honour of Pride month, Marc told HuffPost UK about growing up without queer role models, his modern-day LGBTQ+ heroes and why he feels the community needs to “stand together” to “hold onto the gains we have made and ensure a better world for everyone”…

Who was the first queer person you can remember looking up to?

You know, I grew up in the 70s, and short of sounding like my age it is incredibly difficult to grasp how homophobic Britain was in the 70s and even more so in the 80s. The portrayal of gays on TV were clichéd stereotypes that I could not relate to as a young man growing up. And the news was full of scandals, gay shaming or public outings that destroyed careers.

It was difficult to find a role model against this toxic backdrop, so I honestly can’t recall one.

Marc on stage last year
Marc on stage last year

Jim Dyson via Getty Images

What was the first LGBTQ+ TV show or film that you remember resonating with you?

There was the film Victim, a 1961 British neo noir suspense film directed by Basil Dearden. I had never seen a film before that presented gay life – or “homosexuals” as everyone was known as then – in a sympathetic way. Just never seen that, and that in itself must be incredible for people to understand.

For me, the TV film The Naked Civil Servant was a revelation, a ground-breaking portrayal of Quentin Crisp, the British-born writer, raconteur and actor and his account of his openly homosexual life in London when he dared to be himself. It brought a defiant view of a gay life into people’s living room, in fully unapologetic colour. But the story belonged also to John Hurt, who as an actor dared to portray Quentin Crisp at a time when actors didn’t touch gay roles for fear of being tarnished by them.

Quentin Crisp and John Hurt pictured in 1975
Quentin Crisp and John Hurt pictured in 1975

Fremantle Media/Shutterstock

What’s a song you associate with your own coming out?

I never actually came out as such because I don’t remember ever being in the closet. People just looked at me and well, some things are just too obvious to hide.

I grew up loving glam rock, a child of the 70s. Watching David Bowie or Marc Bolan filled me with a sense of wonder, or the film Cabaret. I think of the song Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed or You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) by Sylvester.

What was the most recent LGBTQ+ show or film that made an impact on you?

If I had to pick one then God’s Own Country by Francis Lee is really special.

Josh O'Connor and Alec Secareanu in God's Own Country
Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu in God’s Own Country

British Film Institute/Kobal/Shutterstock

Who is your ultimate queer icon?

I hate to choose one person over another, partly because to say this person’s journey or contribution is better is absurd. And then – and this is the sad part I suppose – a fear that I say or choose someone and it provokes a stream of hate filled comments on social media because they don’t agree. Many gay people are afraid to speak up for fear of attack by other people within their own community and this divisiveness upsets me deeply.

But I have always loved Dirk Bogarde, and though he wasn’t openly gay, he was so gay and he tried to tell us and make a change by placing signifyers in his work. He was funny, and gentle and extremely talented, and much of his work was deeply subversive.

I also have a deep affection for Lindsey Kemp, the late dancer and choreographer. He dealt with gay themes openly and faced considerable hostility. He deeply influenced my sense of theatre and performance.

Dirk Bogarde photographed at home in the 1980s
Dirk Bogarde photographed at home in the 1980s

TV Times via Getty Images

Who is a queer person in the public eye right now that makes you excited about the future?

Ryan Murphy is extraordinary and has changed television in so many ways with groundbreaking work. Just brilliant. Telling stories, human stories, gay stories, retelling them in the mainstream and that is an incredible feat

Billy Porter talks eloquently about how we are at the forefront of telling our own narrative. It’s not at the hands of other people who are outside the community anymore. Like him, I feel so blessed to have lived long enough to see this day.

Billy Porter and Ryan Murphy
Billy Porter and Ryan Murphy

Kevin Mazur via Getty Images

Why do you think Pride is still so important today?

It is no less important than ever. It comes back to feeling pride in ourselves. I suppose the early trans rights activist Marsha P Johnson was right: “If a transvestite doesn’t say, ‘I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m a transvestite, then nobody else is going to hop up there and say I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m a transvestite for them’.”

I want to also add that as a performer I always, when I can, elect to play Prides in smaller towns across Europe, these places where LGBTQ+ people are on the front line – it is easy to be out and proud in the anonymity of a city, but in small towns it is a fearful challenge still.

Marc performing at a Pride event in 2004
Marc performing at a Pride event in 2004

What’s your message for the next generation of LGBTQ+ people?

The struggle is not over. Our freedoms balance precariously on a precipice. The right-wing and nationalists would curtail any freedoms if they could.

And in addition I see, especially through social media, divisions amongst the community – be kinder to each other and realise that only through standing together can we hold onto the gains we have made and ensure a better world for everyone.

There is no shame in being what you are. You are the only one who gets to say who you are. Every generation struggles not only to find their place but a context. I know older gay people who are still not out, unable to embrace this changing world, unfamiliar with this new openness, their closets sealed shut by decades of shame or abuse. Try to see the world from their point of view too, you might learn something about your own past.

Stranger Things and Doritos are teaming up for the first ever Life From The Upside Down concert with performances from Soft Cell, The Go-Gos, Charli XCX and Corey Hart.

To grab a ticket, pick up a bag of Doritos or Doritos 3D Crunch featuring the limited-time Stranger Things packaging or visit Snacks.com

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