The Gentlewoman #23
Today we launch a new series on the Journal, highlighting the writing in the magazines we champion. Each ‘Close-up’ post will feature a written excerpt from a recent issue.
We start with the latest issue of The Gentlewoman. The magazine rightly receives attention for its cover stars – this time Scarlett Johansson – but every issue also features plenty of other great women, in this case singer Rowetta.
Editor-in-chief Penny Martin told us why she chose to feature her, ‘I’ve been a Rowetta super-fan since I saw her perform with The Happy Mondays at the SSE in Glasgow in 1990, so it’s been a dream to work with her on the piece. I told her that my future husband and I were both at that concert, four years before we met each other, so Rowetta’s invited us both to the Mondays gig there in November. It will be quite the reunion.’
Jude Rogers interviewed Rowetta. Read on…
You know the voice: gut-deep, ventricle-heavy with feeling, free from the ornamental melisma many singers use as a substitute for emotion. It’s the voice that became the blueprint for the British house vocal on early club singles such as Sweet Mercy’s “Reach Out” and Vanilla Sound Corps’ “Back Where We Belong”, tracks that were sampled incessantly on late-20th-century club mixes and are still being sampled in our EDM age. It became the beating heart of the Happy Mondays after Rowetta’s campaign to become “the Gloria Jones to their T. Rex”. Her vocals on “Step On” (“He’s gonna step on you again / He’s gonna step on you”), the first she recorded after joining the band in February 1990, give the song its timeless power. Outside pandemic times, Rowetta’s still blasting them out of the park live today.
Where on earth does that voice come from? “No idea. Nobody in my family sings,” Rowetta tells me from her home studio in Cheshire when we speak in early January. She is wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the legend “Working Class Hero” (“for John Lennon, of course”) and sensible specs. Her long hair rolls over her left shoulder like a waterfall. “My mum used to say, ‘Can you be quiet, love?’ And I was thrown out of the school choir for standing out. The same thing happened with Shirley Bassey, apparently.”
Like many Mancunians of her generation, Rowetta likes to say that her life really took off at the Haçienda, Britain’s most creatively ambitious club, founded in 1982 in an old yacht builder’s shop in a semi-derelict area by New Order and Tony Wilson. Wilson was the mastermind behind Factory Records, a label with an aesthetic that changed how pop sounded and how it was sold. Manchester had been energised by punk in the late 1970s, with an arts, music and squat scene blooming around the brutalist estates of Hulme that gave birth to the Russell Club. There, the Factory hosted a night featuring post-punk bands. By 1987, early house was giving Factory a new purpose, and New Order were chart stars. It was the year Rowetta first went to the Haçienda. “I remember being on the balcony, looking down on this girl coming in, her braids swinging.” Her confidence was infectious, and Rowetta “realised then, in that moment: I want to be like her.”
Read the whole article in The Gentlewoman #23.