'I love my work, but the price I pay is that I have to be Marianne Faithfull'
The indefatigable singer discusses the swinging Sixties and her love/hate relationship with the city of London.
It could never be said that Marianne Faithfull isn't a survivor. The excesses of the Sixties, heroin addiction, homelessness, cancer and the broken back she sustained in 2013 haven't been able to stop her.
More recently, she fractured her hip during a holiday in Greece, and while that has slowed her down a little — “these things always take longer to heal than the doctors say” — Faithfull carries on regardless, always putting her music first.
The back injury saw her laid up, recuperating, for the best part of six months. For her current hip ailment, she can't take strong painkillers — an unfortunate by-product of her past dependencies — so instead, has to grin and bear it in her Paris flat, with nothing more potent than paracetamol for comfort.
“I can't even smoke,” she adds, “I gave up completely with the help of some nicotine patches, and now use nothing but an e-cigarette.” Other than a pretty heavy “salt habit”, Faithfull is virtually viceless. Still, it could be worse. She could be in London, answering journalists' questions, which she implies might just be her idea of hell.
“I hate London,” she says, emphatically.
It's a shame, given she's one of the people most synonymous with the city in its swinging heyday. But then that's presumably the reason she can't stand the UK capital; all the baggage that comes with being there, a torturous memory around every corner and “impertinent” questions on the lips of everyone she meets.
“I have happy memories of London, too,” she says. “My son lives there, my grandchildren are there, I've got friends there, but the press do torment me. To the point where if I'm writing a song and I have a memory of the Sixties that I want to include, I'll leave it out and not use it. It's more trouble than it's worth. One line in a song and I get questions about Mick Jagger, the poor old thing. He didn't ask for this either.”
The Mick Jagger she refers to is, of course, the same Mick Jagger that's been wiggling his snaky hips on stage as frontman of The Rolling Stones since 1962. Faithfull and Jagger were an item for four years between 1966 and 1970, a world-famous item who symbolised all the danger, glamour, romance and luxury associated with London at the time.
She says Britain turned on her after the infamous ‘Redlands bust' — when police raided the home of Rolling Stone Keith Richards and found Faithfull naked under a fur rug — and it's kind of been downhill ever since. She has, however, won a hard-earned following and, despite her protestations, become something of an unlikely national treasure.
“It was all a hell of a long time ago,” she says. “It's time everyone got over it, I think. Including me.”
London is at the forefront of Faithfull's mind at the moment, for a very specific reason. Her new album is called Give My Love To London, a slightly scathing new collection of songs featuring contributions from Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos, Roger Waters, Ed Harcourt, Adrian Utley, Steve Earle, Anna Calvi, Pat Leonard and Tom McRae. To mark its release, she's embarking on a world tour, and later this year will release Marianne Faithfull: A Life On Record, a collection of photographs taken throughout her career.
“That title's meant to be ambiguous. But okay, it's a little sarcastic. I don't hate London, really,” she says, softening. “Let's say I'm somewhere in between, depending on which aspect of London I'm thinking of. But talking about this stuff is never a picnic.”
She broke her back in 2013 while on holiday in California, and had to cancel all engagements, including a run of shows in the US and Lebanon, as a result. Despite the intense pain, she says she enjoyed the recuperation — because all she could do was lie down and think. Even when she was on her feet again after six months of bed rest, she still wasn't up to public appearances, so went about her life in Paris, concentrating solely on getting better.
“I didn't have to be Marianne Faithfull,” she says. “And it was bliss. I can't do that very often, and I don't really want to — I love my work, but it can be a drag sometimes. I love writing, singing, performing, making records ... and the price I pay is that I have to be Marianne Faithfull.
“I always feel like I'm becoming her when I'm putting on my make-up before a show. I know I have to, it's just someone I have to be.”
Now 67, Faithfull says she started writing for Give My Love To London the last time she was in the city, promoting 2011 album Horses And High Heels. When back in Paris, she met up with songwriter Steve Earle, who agreed to co-write some of the songs she'd been mapping out while laid up recovering.
She also worked with Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and Jim Sclavunos, of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, all of whom she's known for some time. Ellis, too, lives in Paris, and the pair are good friends.
“I love working with Nick,” she says. “And he must like working with me, although he didn't like the record of covers I made. At all,” she adds, referring to 2008's double album of reworked songs, Easy Come, Easy Go. “He thought it was disgraceful, and that I should write my own songs. He's very critical. He knows me very well, and he knows I have a tendency to sloth and laziness. I call it writer's block, but he said, ‘That's rubbish, you just don't want to do it'.”
She now admits she didn't really have anything she wanted to say at the time of recording that album, but things are different now, and she has plenty to get off her chest.
“I think this is my best album. I actually like it better than Broken English,” she says — some claim, given that the 1979 album in question is widely regarded as her definitive recording, referred to by some as a masterpiece. “This album's warmer. The thing about Broken English that people like so much, and it really suited the times, was that it was icy cold,” Faithfull adds. “Give My Love To London is not cold, it's really passionate and really intense.
“It's everything I am.”
Marianne Faithfull releases her new album Give My Love To London on Monday