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Sarah Cracknell talks to Nick Dent-Robinson about her thirty plus years of fronting synth-pop outfit St. Etienne, family life and their forthcoming appearance at Glastonbury.
Sarah Cracknell, now 55 and the singer with synth-pop band Saint Etienne, is a formidable presence on stage - and a chic frontwoman for a band that have retained their hip elegance over the years. She still tours the world and plays top venues and the best festivals – including recently the new KITE festival at Kirtlington in Oxfordshire as well as Glastonbury. Her honey-toned voice seems as fresh and mesmerising as it was when she first captivated the country with the dreamy 'Nothing Can Stop Us'.
But Sarah has a secret life, too. - She is also an everyday Oxfordshire mum who keeps her glamorous career as big a secret as she possibly can.
“It's true. I never tell anyone what I do if I can help it,” she laughs when we speak between Saint Etienne's KITE and Glastonbury performances. Sarah lives with husband, Heavenly Records boss Martin Kelly, in a pleasant but not ostentatious rural Oxfordshire home. “I try hard to stay anonymous. Of course I do have to tour leaving my poor children behind, but nobody finds out - and I'm actually a very hands-on mum! My children have been all over the world with me.”
It is now 32 years since St Etienne formed, founded originally by music writers Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. The name was borrowed from a French football club. Initially the group was primarily a vehicle for Bob and Pete's music with a floating roster of vocalists. But after Sarah's contribution to the dreamy dance-pop classic, 'Nothing Can Stop Us Now', she became the band's lead singer. Influenced by 60s pop and soul, 70s rock and 80s dance music, St Etienne's dance-pop classic 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' was followed by other engaging hits including, 'You're In A Bad Way', 'Join Our Club', 'He's on the Phone' and '7 Ways To Love' which was released under the moniker Cola Boy. Later came more heavy electronic and film music culminating in the widely acclaimed synth-pop masterpiece 'Words and Music by Saint Etienne'.
The band's ten studio albums include the 2017 concept work 'Home Counties' and 2021's upbeat, sample-rich LP 'I've been Trying To Tell You'.
Recently, two more talented Oxfordshire-based musicians have joined the St Etienne line-up. Robin and Joe Bennett of country rock group Dreaming Spires (and founders of Oxfordshire's Truck and Wood festivals) have joined St Etienne for some of their live festival performances.
“Those two are excellent musicians and it is great to have them aboard,” Sarah says. “The new KITE festival has been brilliant with a great line-up and we stayed for most of the weekend there, which we rarely do. It was billed as a festival of music and ideas which was different! "
The line-up was eclectic with people like Grace Jones, Tom Misch, Self Esteem, Mavis Staples, Nubiyan Twist and Flamingods. Speakers included Jarvis Cocker, artist Ai Weiwei, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, Tina Brown, Delia Smith, Andrew Neil, Minnie Driver from the world of film plus from politics David Miliband and Rory Stewart. Amongst the visitors people tell me they spotted there were BBC Radio's Bob Harris, Kate Moss, Jeremy Clarkson, David Cameron, Victoria Beckham, David Walliams and Russell Brand - so it was quite a mix!
“Glastonbury fans also got a sneak preview of St Etienne's set - though the Worthy Farm show will include some special Glastonbury surprises from us. We're on the Park Stage on Friday 24 June. It is still a thrill to be performing at the same event as people like Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Diana Ross, the Pet Shop Boys, Herbie Hancock, Noel Gallagher, Billie Eilish and so many more! We'll be aiming for a crowd-pleasing set with lots of familiar songs, a few less familiar ones and some great visuals. We haven't changed at all, really. Our set is primarily a lot of songs we have been doing for years and just love performing! Saint Etinenne's longevity is probably down to the genuine friendship between us all. We really are a happy band!”
Finally, does Sarah have advice for anyone new to festivals? “Just go with it, relax and enjoy yourself! Don't get too hung up on appearances or cleanliness - or even godliness,” she laughs. “And don't drink too much or you won't catch all the bands you want to see. I did that once and missed out terribly! And, lastly, don't worry about wellies - they'll kill your ankles! But always bring along a good raincoat plus a nice Sou'wester - ideally in bright yellow. That will make all the difference!”
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