Wednesday 21 March 2018

Go with the Flo and live to the max

Florence Welch, who sets the stage on fire with her vocal power, also scorched her hotel's walls, says Barry Egan

Florence Welch
Florence Welch
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Florence Leontine Mary Welch has a scar on her right foot. A piece of floorboard got stuck in it when she was 17. 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," she remembers. "This is the problem with being an exuberant person."

You can say that again. That very exuberance has helped her set the world on fire. But before that it was the supermarkets of her hometown of Camberwell in London that she was delighting with her unstoppable if weird verve.

"I was always that girl growing up who you could find dancing down supermarket aisles," the pre-Raphaelite-looking and ethereal-sounding Welch reminisced recently.

"It's that sense of not feeling inhibited," Welch, who plays perhaps the most anticipated show of the year so far next month at the 02, continued, adding that dancing in supermarkets is her favourite thing in the world.

"But it's such a strange place because no one will look at you. Everything has such order and everyone is so focused on doing what they're doing that no one ever pays attention to you spinning and dancing around supermarkets. It's something you find in places like supermarkets and airports, where everything is really ordered.

"There's something about those places that makes you feel really anonymous."

Her younger sister Grace concurred: "One of my earliest memories is of being with Florence in a Sainsbury's in England. I remember her dragging me and running down the aisles.

"My dad had to go to the front and get them to page us. So they called out, 'Would Grace and Florence Welch please come to the front of the store?'. That's one of my earliest memories of being really humiliated."

Welch has left dancing in Sainsbury's behind to appear on the cover of last month's Vogue and generally becoming one of the most talked-about female singers in the world.

She is so bursting with self-possession -- for example, in the beautiful video for Dog Days -- that you think she is going to literally explode.

Just after designer Alexander McQueen died in 2010, Welch played at a New York gala in his honour and, with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Jay-Z, and Madonna in the audience, set the show on fire with an eccentric rendition of David Bowie's Rebel Rebel.

The most memorable moment was when she strutted up to where Paul McCartney was seated and got him up to dance by singing directly to him: "Rebel rebel, how could they know? Hot tramp, I love you so . . ."

It is hard to believe that in 2007 that the endearingly individualistic Welch was a pretentious, posh, art school dropout, who was discovered by her manager while murdering Etta James's Something's Got a Hold on Me in a club toilet.

"People always ask, 'What are you like offstage?' 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 offstage 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," the 25-year-old Welch said recently, adding: "I think I just have a problem generally in life, of wanting more of everything -- more emotion, more drama, more glitz."

There was plenty of drama after a night in New York late last year, when Welch got so drunk that she accidentally set fire to her hotel room.

"I think I must have had about 17 dirty martinis. I lost my phone and ripped my dress very badly.

"I accidentally set fire to The Bowery Hotel because I'd left a cinnamon tea light burning," she told Q magazine.

"I came back to the hotel, passed out in my ripped dress -- no phone, chipped tooth -- came round and there was black stuff all over the wall, my book had melted on the bedside table and there was a bucket of water on the floor.

"Actually, the last scene you want to wake up to with a hangover. Half the room was singed," she recalled.

There is also a story about Welch getting so drunk in her early 20s that she woke up one morning on the roof of a pub wearing only a paint-speckled Captain America costume.

But ridiculous attire aside, she is a fantastic vocalist, with hints of Bjork, Patti Smith and even Kylie Minogue.

Fans swooned along to songs like You've Got The Love, Dog Days and The Drumming Song from her 2009 debut Lungs. And most will do the same to the new album, the celebratory Ceremonials, which Welch described as "incorrigible ... maximalism".

You can see that "incorrigible maximalism" for yourself early next month when Florence and the Machine arrive in Dublin.

Florence and the Machine, plus special guests The Horrors and Spector, play the O2, Dublin, on March 2.

Sunday Independent

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