singer, songwriter, mother, style icon, Grandmother — neneh cherry has been many things to many people since she entered our consciousness nearly two decades ago. She kept us guessing with an 18 year solo hiatus. Now she's back…
Neneh Cherry has never chased fame. But it has always found her in the right place at the right time. In 1988 she blew us away with her debut solo album, Raw Like Sushi, unleashing a defiant sound fusing hip-hop, pop, dance and R&B. She was scooped up by the era-defining stylist Ray Petri, ensuring that Cherry’s name has become as synonymous with fashion as it is with music. The past few years have seen her record with artists including Gorillaz, The Thing and Peter Gabriel, as well as host a cookery TV show and raise three children. But she‘s emerged this year with a new sparce sound and forth solo album Blank Project, created in just five days with Four Tet's Kieran Hebden. We meet Cherry to discover why she̓s still an unparalleled style icon at the age of 50.
The past 18 years have been about collaborating with other musicians and also TV presenting – what gave you the push to go solo again?
The TV presenting was tiresome, although I loved hanging out with my friend and co-presenter, Andi. I don‘t really think about this business stuff like [working] solo or [a] new album or whatever, I just do what grabs my fancy when I feel it. I kind of broke down when our little family band project CirKus was about to launch because my mum died. It broke my heart. So that kind of killed me being in a band, solo was the only option. You have to take what you can get.
You were just 16 when you started out with your first band Rip Rig & Panic – what advice would you give your teenage self now? Jesus, I don't know if any of my advice would be printable! I was pretty off the hook when I was 16 and don’t really deserve to be here now. I guess I’d just say ‘Good luck‘.
You grew up in Sweden but led quite a nomadic existence with your family – how has exposure to different places and people influenced your music? I guess we‘re affected by everything that happens to us; my family travels have had a profound effect on everything that I am.
You once championed the style movement ‘Buffalo’. Have you kept any pieces from back then? The whole thing with Ray‘s (Petri) style celebrated the workman-like nature of clothes. We all wore original MA-1 flying jackets, New York doormen's shiny shoes, Levi‘s jeans, white shirts and gold jewellery. Damn right, I kept it all!
You worked closely with stylist Judy Blame – how did that come about and what made you two connect? Judy kind of took over from Ray when he died. In my eyes [Judy was] Ray‘s real successor in terms of his maverick buffalo attitude and vision so it was inevitable we‘d hook up. He was on the edges of our group for a few years hanging with Mark Lebon and a lot of our crew and gradually we reeled him in. We connected because we loved each other at first sight and still do. Judy is a member of our family, he‘s lived with us, been on countless holidays with us, and he‘s Godmother to one of my kids.
Buffalo style has made a comeback and 90s Neneh has become an emblem of the decade. How does that make you feel? As long as Ray Petri and his legacy is the point of focus, it makes me happy. Too many folks have taken from his style and not paid him the respect he deserves. He was the Don, we should be on our knees to his memory, the whole fashion industry should.
There have been plenty of Neneh imitators in the music industry. Are there any modern day artists who manage to carry the Neneh torch in your opinion? The Neneh torch? God I hope not. I hope they carry their own torches. I hope we inspired a few young'uns to get up and try stuff and be brave is all.
Scour the charts and youʼll see that Cherryʼs influence runs far and wide in terms of music, style and swagger. She paved the way for the likes of bold, ballsy artists Rihanna, M.I.A, Azealia Banks and fellow Swede Robyn.
What designers are you wearing these days? Adidas/Y3 trainers, Dr. Martens shoes, Christopher Shannon, Ann-Sofie Back, Swedish Hasbeens and Judy Blame jewellery.
You had a bohemian upbringing as a child – were you careful to create the same kind of environment for your own kids? Not consciously, no, but I hope I did half the job for my kids that my mum and dad did for me.
You have band CirKus with your husband Cameron McVey and daughter Tyson – have your kids inherited your musical talent? My kids follow their own stars. They are fiercely independent so any suggestion of inheritance would horrify them. I‘ve always worked with family. Cameron and I have worked together for nearly 30 years. It‘s easy, it‘s nice.
Motherhood has never fazed you – you performed on Top of the Pops seven months pregnant. But has Grandmotherhood changed you? (Neneh has a 10-year-old Grandson, Flynn) Yeah, it‘s made me younger!
Tour dates and festivals aside, what are you most excited about in the coming months? Family time. Don‘t get me wrong, I love to tour and write and all that, but nothing beats hugging my family every day.
Petri Dish The late, great stylist Ray Petri merged 1980s street fashion with sport and utility wear to create a sleek, urban aesthetic known as Buffalo. Cherry's signature bomber jackets and cycling shorts embodied the movement and she took it mainstream with her hit Buffalo Stance.
Jeweller, art director and super-stylist, Judy Blame’s profile was raised in the 1980s as part of Ray Petri’s fashion collective, The Buffalo Boys. He contributed to magazines such as i-D and The Face and was a permanent fixture on the London club circuit throughout the decade. His punk aesthetic and provocative outlook were a natural fit for young artists such as Cherry and Boy George. He's since worked with Björk, Rei Kawakubo, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Paco Rabanne to name a few.