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MUSIC Jimmy Somerville celebrates disco, Bronski Beat past
by Terri-Lynne Waldron

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Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the song "Small Town Boy," the breakthrough hit by Bronski Beat. Former lead singer Jimmy Somerville is back with a brand-new disco beat and is set to release his new CD, Homage, on March 10.

Windy City Times spoke with Somerville about his love of disco, being openly gay at the start of his career and that signature voice.

Windy City Times: The first single from Homage is "Travesty." What is the song about?

Jimmy Somerville: "Travesty" is a kind of social comment about state of affairs and it's just such a travesty that we have government—especially rich Western government—bemoaning the fact that there is no money left and yet we fund wars and still manage to have a nuclear arsenal. You know what? Shut up—there is money, and that's the travesty.

WCT: Is disco your favorite type of music?

JS: It's what I kind of always go back to—and I have such an eclectic taste in music—but I will always have disco somewhere in the background. It's music that makes me happy and it's music that's part of my musical history. It's a sound that I really love and respect and jump to the defence of because it's highly underrated and it's much more sophisticated than people give it credit for.

WCT: Last year was the 30th anniversary of the release of the Bronski Beat song "Small Town Boy." What are people's reaction to the song today?

JS: I did a new version of the song online and it brought back a lot of memories for people, but it opened up a whole new audience and people are very kind. That song is very special for people and I understand that. But that's the great thing about music, it's such a soundtrack to our lives. You hear a song and you suddenly think about a place, a time a person and an event. I still get letters from younger kids who say, "This song really effects me," and I'm really proud of that—that I made something that can tap into people's emotions.

WCT: When you started your music career, were you already an out gay man?

JS: We [the members of Bronski Beat] were already out and then we started our musical career and there was no discussion where we said, "Maybe we should be quiet if we want to have a career." We were just basically being who we were, which was very important to what we were doing and how we were expressing ourselves. Today still—there are artists, musicians, sports people, television people and film people who are still too scared to come out in case that effects their career. It's kind of sad that when it's happening to you inside emotionally and psychologically, and you're prepared to suffer that pain for the sake of a career.

WCT: Early in your career, what kind of negative reaction did you get from people because of your orientation?

JS: I remember when a man approached me once and said that he disliked me and didn't like what I stood for, what I spoke about or who I was. But he respected my honesty. I would rather someone tell me that, rather than be a producer of a radio show and not play the record and say, "It's not our type of record." You are saying this because you don't like the fact that I'm gay. That happened a lot. That was all the more determination for me to stand my ground and just be as honest as I possibly could.

WCT: How have you managed to maintain the falsetto in your voice?

JS: People always get confused but it's not falsetto—it's countertenor, which means that it's not as high as falsetto, so it's easy for me to go there as opposed to going much higher. If the octave gets higher, I can bring it down and I can control it more. I guess it's just how I'm made genetically and I'm lucky that my voice is hanging in there. My voice is getting raspy and there are lines on my face, buy hey—that's just life. [Both laugh.]

WCT: You have been quoted as saying that with Homage, "You've finally made the disco album you've always wanted to make and never thought you could."

JS: With the recording of the record I rediscovered my love of music and it has opened up my heart to what I really love doing. It's about contribution and who you work with, and it's about feeling it. It's a process and there has to be a certain amount of love and passion and I get all of that with the people that I work with on this album and everyone was generous with their creative energy and that was a real treat.

WCT: Speaking of paying homage to the disco era, would you release the upcoming record on vinyl?

JS: The record is coming out on gatefold vinyl. I'm really going back to old school.

For more info about Somerville, visit

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