The new issue of NME is dedicated to lost musical legends.
Billie Holiday actually pre-dates a lot of other artists in my life. When I was much younger – eleven, twelve – I was listening to Billie Holiday records in my room on my own, with a wineglass full of orange juice, already pretending to be a sort of tortured mistress of blues, wafting around my bedroom. Songs like ‘Strange Fruit’ – just incredible.
And her whole life story. I mean, she was a prostitute. And then she was part of the whole Harlem renaissance – so many amazing things came out of that.
Her voice was just incredible. Her whole manner of perfoming was very restrained. So cool. Completely the antithesis of Janis Joplin, but had that same thing – the emotion she was able to create through singing.
She had these dogs – and in the balls in their collars, she’d keep her heroin. She was in trouble with the police loads. Even on her deathbed, they raided her for drugs offences.
She’s got this biography called ‘Lady Sings The Blues’ – it’s co-written by her, but she just glosses over the whole heroin addiction thing, like it never happened. The warts-and-all biography just wasn’t done in those days.
But really it’s the voice. It’s that ability to touch someone. That’s what makes her an icon, not the tragedy of her death.