Friday 23 August 2019

Florence, the nightingale of ethereal song

Florence Welch
Florence Welch
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The pre-Raphaelite-looking - and ethereal-sounding - Florence Leontine Mary Welch has the words 'Always Lonely' tattooed on her left arm. You could say that she wears her heart on her sleeve or thereabouts. The opening line of Hunger - from her band Florence And The Machine's High as Hope album last year - goes: 'At 17, I started to starve myself.' "I didn't really talk about it with my mum until really recently. So to put it in a song - it's like, what am I doing?" she told The New York Times last year about her eating disorder as a young adult.

She was concerned that she might have teenagers model themselves after her, because "when I was in it [the eating disorder], I was always, like, hunting for information; I want to be responsible". Florence says, nonetheless, that Hunger "definitely was a release for me".

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"I have no idea how much I weigh right now," Welch says in the current edition of Vogue magazine. "Five years ago, I could have told you how much in the morning, at night, clothes on, clothes off. With and without jewellery. To let go of that sometimes feels like a bigger achievement than headlining Glastonbury."

She also quit drinking at 27. "It just opened up doors for me that I don't know how to shut."

Florence isn't really like any other English pop star. We could have worked that out from listening to her 2009 debut Lungs, or from the fact that she has a Little House on the Prairie fetish. Which was unusual in itself because young Florence lived in south London, "so there were no prairies", as she told Rolling Stone. "I had a little dress, and I remember laying a 'river' of towels down and my bunk bed was the log cabin. My mother was like, 'What are you doing?'" Florence has a scar on her right foot, as a result of a piece of floorboard becoming stuck in it when she was 17 after she jumped off the bed because a boy she liked had phoned her. "He turned out to be my first love, so, I mean, that worked out. But I almost lost the foot."

I interviewed her in London in 2011. She is more withdrawn and introspective - while still being quirky - than you'd expect from watching her whirl around the stage in front of 50,000 fans at Glasto singing about "Snow White's stitching up your circuit-boards/ Someone's slipping through the hidden door" (Blinding) and "You are the hole in my head/ You are the space in my bed/ You are the silence in between what I thought and what I said" (No Light No Light).

"People always ask, 'What are you like off-stage?' And I always say, 'Well, I'm completely normal and mellow'. On stage, you can use your emotions. It's the place where you can channel them. They have a purpose. But then off-stage they just hit you. All that power that you can use on stage disappears when you've lost your phone and you're in the middle of the street in New York City."

There are no prairies in Manhattan either.

There are plenty of prairies in Co Laois to feed her fetish when Florence headlines Electric Picnic next month.

Sunday Independent

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