Tina Turner insists she never used sex to sell her music when she performed on stage
Tina Turner insists she never used sex to sell her music when she performed on stage.
‘All I ever wanted to do was give people a good time,’ the rock-n-roll legend tells me. ‘I never did sexual moves, and I never did sexual gestures.’
She wasn’t averse to a bit of teasing, though. ‘I played with sex,’ she agrees. ‘But I never actually did it, so they thought I was really trying to come on to someone.
‘When I stood there, sweat dripping from me, all the make-up on, and the hair, and everybody looking up at me, smiling. That was what I always left the stage with,’ Turner says, adding she always knew when enough was enough. ‘Give them too much and you’ll get them on stage with you.’
Tina, now 77, draws a sharp contrast between her act, at the height of her solo fame in the Eighties, and the female superstars of today: women like Beyonce, Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez.
‘I’ve got to be careful,’ she says, likening criticism to ‘a pillow that you cut in the wind’.
She blames competiveness — and weak management — for the sexual provocativeness that pervades the world of female music stars now.
‘There’s not a lot of people in their ear, trying to talk about manners on stage,’ she says. ‘I think they started out doing what they wanted to do; and you weren’t able to correct them. So I think that’s why they’re taking off more clothes.
‘It just went further and further. For me, it’s too much. I just really want to say that it really can be a turn off. I think the new generation is on that road.’
Turner believes the pendulum will eventually swing back, ‘though I probably won’t be around by that time’. In the meantime, today’s stars are busy trying to outdo each other, to see who can be the most outrageous. ‘One does it; and everyone does it. The costumes become less and less. I just take a deep breath and say: “When is it over?!”
‘But at least most of them can sing,’ she adds with a laugh, followed by a sigh.
We were talking as Turner prepared to launch TINA: a new musical based on her life directed by Phyllida Lloyd (the first musical Lloyd has worked on since Mamma Mia!, which is still running after nearly two decades).
Tina Turner said that Mick Jagger and David Bowie never came onto her because they saw her more as a ‘role model’
The show, written by Katori Hall and produced by Tali Pelman (for Stage Entertainment), will look at Turner’s hard-scrabble childhood in Nutbush, Tennessee; her years of servitude with the controlling Ike Turner; and the freedom years, after she walked out on Ike and became an international solo star. It starts previews at the Aldwych Theatre on March 21 and will open officially on April 17.
It’s not all bad news for Beyonce and co, by the way. Turner told me she admires Beyonce’s elegance. ‘I love how Rihanna sings. I love how Jennifer Lopez looks — except her behind is a little bit heavy. Those girls are the leaders.
‘I can’t say they’re my favourites, but I enjoy watching them.’
And then we are back to clothing, or lack thereof. ‘You’ve got a mixed audience out there, and you’ve got to learn stagecraft. That’s what I did with the short dresses I wore. But they’ve gone past the dress.
‘Actually, Madonna started the part with no clothes,’ she says. ‘She was the forerunner of all of that.
‘I went out in high-heeled shoes, a short dress and there was good dancing and laughter and fun — not making the women feel like me and the girls (her dancers) were after their men. There was never anything coming from the stage that was negative.
Turner described Bowie like a ‘brother’ and the pair worked together on a vocal collaboration
‘I always did the shimmy from side to side. The hips went from side to side — never from the front.
‘You’ve got to admit that when you see the grinding on stage, it turns you off a little bit.
Dancing, she insists, should be ‘feet and hips — not pelvic thrusts!’
Tina says she was just as strict when it came to working with ‘the boys’. And what boys! Mick Jagger and David Bowie were ‘like the brothers that I never had’. ‘We never slept together; and they never came on to me, because I think they saw me as a role model in some kind of way.
‘Mick wanted to dance — and I was a dancer — but he never gave me the credit! He said his mother taught him how to dance. But we worked with him in the dressing room, me and the girls, and we taught him how to Pony.’ (For those with two left feet, that’s a Sixties dance move.)
‘I had a different kind of collaboration with David (Bowie),’ she continues, ‘and it was more to do with the singing.
‘All those English guys felt I could sing. They felt there was something to learn from my singing. My vocals are natural. I hit the note naturally and they’d go: “What?! How’d you do that?!!”’
Tina Turner has retired from performing but is currently working on a musical on her life called ‘TINA’
Turner started singing in church, when she was a girl. Even then, she knew the importance of taking care of her voice.
‘Being a church girl you were taught that alcohol was not a good thing. Southern church people didn’t drink anyway back then, though some imbibed in the corn whisky. But I wasn’t attracted to smoking, or the drugs or the drinking — though later on I did enjoy a glass of wine, and champagne; but even then, always in moderation.’
She puts her enviable figure down to moderation, too. ‘I’ve been lucky with my weight,’ she says. ‘I grew up skinny, like a little pony. The style of the women in those days was big hips, big legs.’
Turner’s musical will be directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who previously worked on Mamma Mia!
But 50 years of dancing — not to mention slogging through airports while on tour — helped keep her trim. As did eating carefully. ‘I still have what I want to eat, but moderately. I don’t overdo the chocolates.’
Now, Turner is turning her attention to the hunt to find an actress who can play her in TINA.
‘She will definitely have to be able to sing,’ she says, ‘even if she can’t dance. But she will dance, because the choreographer (Anthony van Laast) of the show will be able to pull it out of her!
‘We’re not pushing that she has to be pretty; but she has to be in shape. She can’t be fat.’
Director Lloyd told me that when she met Tina, she was struck by how radically different she was from her onstage persona.
‘I began to think I was looking for someone who was prepared to live like a nun,’ Lloyd joked.
The singer herself contends that, out of the limelight, she’s not actually Tina Turner at all. ‘When the lights go out, I go back to being Anna Mae Bullock (her birth name). I’m a straight girl! I was always adamant about certain things — and I didn’t want to be a drug addict or an alcoholic.’
There’s still a spiritual side to her — although she is no longer a Baptist, but a Buddhist. ‘When life got tough, I needed all the help — from all the gods,’ she says.
But despite those tough times, she doesn’t see her past as dark. ‘You know, they say there’s a light side and a dark side. I think I’ve always been on the light side.’
Part of the light these days comes from a good marriage, to long-time love Erwin Bach. The pair wed in 2013 and now live in Zurich.
Pictured: Tina Turner with long-time lover Erwin Bach (far left), Roger Davies and Tali Pelman
‘I’ve touched upon a happiness I thought was impossible to have,’ she says.
She’s happy with retirement, too; though she doesn’t rule out a one-off comeback, to perform something special, and particularly if the old gang — ‘all of whoever is still alive, from my time’ — were involved.
‘I think something like that I’d be a part of,’ she concedes. ‘But to actually go back to work on a tour or something? No. Retirement is retirement.
‘Two years from now I’ll be 80, and I don’t want to be seen as a cruddy old woman, walking around on stage with a walking stick. I don’t need to go back. It’s over.’
Priority tickets go on sale from 10am today, and general tickets from September 22.
Call the box office on 0845 200 7981 or visit tinathemusical.com.
Producers Barbara Broccoli and Colin Vaines had an inkling that Elvis Costello liked Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame, so they went to see him in concert. ‘He began singing a song he dedicated to her memory,’ Broccoli recalled. ‘And on stage, he had a giant photo of Gloria. So we realised that he adored her.’
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