Sophie Ellis-Bextor keeps it in the family for Priory Park Festival

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Black Star Riders: from left, Scott Gorham, Chad Szeliga, Ricky Warwick,  Robbie Crane and Damon Johnson.  Picture by Richard Stow

Black Star Riders come under Heavy Fire on their latest tour

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Given that Sophie Ellis-Bextor had her fourth child last November, then headed into the studio to start work on her sixth album a couple of months later, it’s hardly surprising that family was on her mind.

The resulting album, Familia, is now in the can and ready for release this September. But before then, in a further family-related link, she will be headlining at the new Priory Park Festival in Chichester next weekend, which has been put together by her father, Robin Bextor.

Sophie has followed an unusual musical path – first appearing as the frontwoman of late Britpop-era indie band Theaudience. After they split she took a right turn into dance music, scoring a number one hit with DJ Spiller on Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love). She had further huge clubland hits under her own name with Murder On The Dancefloor and Take Me Home.

But on 2014’s Wanderlust she took another abrupt turn into baroque and folk- influenced pop – an album that proved to be her most successful in several years.

So what was the inspiration behind the new album?

‘It was inspired by a few things, really, I wanted something with a Spanish or Italian feel,’ she explains.

‘The last one, which I made with (cult singer-songwriter and producer) Ed Harcourt, had quite an eastern European feeling, and then this one is much more inspired by hotter climates like south America – he went on holiday to Cuba, and I went on holiday to Mexico, and I think both of us came back inspired by that.

‘I wanted the title to be a word that would be said in places like that, and I think it’s to do with the family you work with and family you create.

‘Wanderlust had its own family as well because it was a fully independent album – I was cherry-picking all the people that you’ve loved working with over the years, and then because you’re all working together and pooling your resources, it’s that kind of family as well.

‘It’s been virtually the same team this time, there’s no change in the band, no change in the producer or the songwriters, we’ve even recorded it in the same studio.’

It’s quite an eccentric little set, but it seems to work all right. I quite enjoy the fact that it’s quite bonkers

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

And was it an obvious choice to work with Ed again?

‘Oh yeah, we get on very well, he’s a family friend anyway, he’s my son Ray’s godfather, and one of my husband Rich’s best friends and we see him all the time.’

Harcourt is known for the brooding intensity in his own work, and also had quite a reputation for hard-living. But in recent years, since becoming a father himself, has also calmed down.

‘In some ways we’re quite different,’ she acknowledges, ‘but when we work together it’s very natural and it just works.’

It was also her second time of working entirely independently – she now releases her work on her own EBGBs label. Did she enjoy being away from a major label when she made Wanderlust?

‘Oh, absolutely. It was like the best present. I had 10 good years with a major label, and they were very good to me, but then to have the luxury to make exactly the kind of record I wanted to was really wonderful, and the fact that it did well meant so much to me, it was very special. That year was definitely the best year of my career so far.

‘I think it’s lovely that you can get to album five and feel like that. Some people don’t have that luxury.

‘I’m not someone who lives their life saying ‘‘this is wonderful – but oh my god, how am I going to cope when it’s not like this?’’

‘You just have to appreciate it when it’s happening and sometimes when you’re in the midst of something doing better than you think – like Groovejet, it was such a whirlwind – I don’t think I was able to take stock.

‘But with Wanderlust, I thought, right I’m really going to enjoy this and enjoy the here and now, and it really worked.’

The last time Sophie played live in these parts was during the Wanderlust tour at 2014’s Victorious (pictured right).

‘That was lovely,’ she recalls. ‘It was a really lovely vista – you could see all the people sitting up on the hill at the side and it looked beautiful.

‘I think what you’re hoping for when you play outdoors is that you get a nice day, and that summer we had an unbroken record of zero gigs without rain, we were incredibly lucky because we did about 20 festivals that summer.’ And she laughs: ‘That’s it, book me – it’ll be dry and sunny.’

Given the variety of styles she’s covered in her career, does she ever worry about pulling it all together in one set?

‘I quite like the quirkiness of doing it all – I can’t not include Wanderlust, and I want to include the new stuff, because that’s where my head is now. ‘Luckily Wanderlust did well enough so people know those songs, but it wouldn’t feel right not doing things like Groovejet and Murder on The Dancefloor, disco and dance is still a very big part of who I am and what I love.

‘It’s quite an eccentric little set, but it seems to work all right. I quite enjoy the fact that it’s quite bonkers.’

Looking back at that period where she moved from indie pin-up to dance diva, did she find it jarring?

‘Definitely, I was doing Glastonbury one summer and then playing at parties in Ibiza the next. I didn’t know any dance music or DJs, it wasn’t the sort of scene I was into at all.

‘But it taught me a lot in terms of giving me the confidence that if something feels right – I know it sounds a bit pretentious – if things are authentic, and you’re doing it for the right reason, people are a lot more open-minded than you think.

‘The parameters you put around yourself and sort of pigeonhole things can come as much from you as it does from other people.

‘My record collection is pretty eclectic, so I don’t know why I should imagine my fans would be any different, really.’

For the Priory Park Festival, it’s not the first time she’s worked with her film-making father – he directed videos for several of her singles.

‘He’s always been a big music fan, and he’s kind of the reason I’ve ended up doing what I do, really.

‘He took me to my first gig when I was eight – he took me to see Pink Floyd, and then I was 11 he took me to see them again.

‘He was always playing me records, getting me to watch music videos.

‘He was the one who took me to the record shop when it was time to buy my first single when I was four. I bought Our House by Madness. He was really encouraging and wanted music to be part of my life, and it obviously worked.’

n Priory Park Festival in Chichester takes place on July 8-10. Also playing are The Feeling, Seth Lakeman, Zoe Rahman, Courtney Pine, Paul Jones and The Manfreds, Martin Simpson, The Monochrome Set, Ryan Burnett, the Hounds Of Love featuring Lisa Abbott and more than 20 other bands and artists.

The second stage includes talks and performances from Dame Esther Rantzen, Glyn Johns, Glen Povey, Tom Fort, Barry Miles and Simon Fanshawe are joined by Bubsie and the Beat Brothers, The Sussex Alphabet and Chichester Music Academy.

Various ticket prices apply and are available online at chichesterlive.co.uk, from the Festival Box Office, Cloisters Shop, Cathedral Cloisters, Chichester, or call 01243 813595.