Thoroughly Modern Liz McClarnon of Atomic Kitten talks to ZANI.

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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/Liz McClarno

Before Rock ‘n’ Roll became a worldwide sensation and a commodity in the mid-fifties, there were girl vocal groups; I am not referring to female instrumental bands, but fine young looking ladies who sang harmonic and melodic songs. Early pioneers were the Three X Sisters; Pearl Hamilton

(1900–1978), Violet Hamilton (1908–1983) from Cumberland, Maryland, and Jessie Fordyce from Brooklyn New York, only two were actual sisters.  These were women who plied their trade in the vaudeville circuit (US equivalent to the British music hall); at the early part of the 20th Century.  Today these then young ladies seem dated in their stature and sound, yet they became a huge success in the early 30s US and icon to women of their generation, perhaps the first to do so.  As their career was coming to a close, the Andrew Sisters, LaVerne, Maxene and Patti, three sisters by birth, stepped in. In the early forties, their peak, the image of the three sisters in army uniform singing in their swing and boogie-woogie style, is emblematic of war time America, with their voices offering hope and happiness, escapism via music.  

the ronettes.Since then the ideology of a girl group has stayed pretty much the same, young attractive stylishness and elegant women singing to their peers, as well as appealing and also entertaining the opposite sex. Berry Gordy, Jr. founder of Tamla Motown and legendary record producer Phil Spector saw the allure and the huge financial benefits of girl groups in the sixties. Both men were highly instrumental respectively in pushing this concept into a global phenomenon that equalled the rise of the male quartet band of the same decade.  From The Marvelettes singing about the joys of young love, or Veronica Bennett of The Ronettes pleading with you to be her baby, who can argue that Gordy and Spector’s promotion with their respective girl groups has added so much to pop music’s wonderful history.

The list is endless of great girl groups; from Wilson Phillips to En Vogue, ladies who have given us, the listener, so many wonderful songs. It has to be said that a lot of these groups tend to have a more soulful, funk and pop sound as opposed to aspects of rock music.

It’s no secret that many girl groups were brought together by management or record companies as they are big business with massive recoup, yet it is not a hard and fast rule. The eighties sensation Bananarama were formed in 1979 from the ashes of punk by Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward in London,  and their unique taste in fashion inspired quite a lot of the young female population in England and across Europe. The Supremes were known as the Primettes in the late fifties, and before the name change and signing to Motown, had gained a reception as good performers with a growing fan base in Detroit, home of the label.  In terms of songs, a lot of the material is written by songwriters or cover versions, again not always the case, as Shaznay Lewis of All Saints is co-writer of many of their hits, as is Liz McClarnon of Atomic Kitten, who has contributed to many of their songs. Showing these ladies are far from puppets on a string.

Atomic Kitten was formed in 1998 by  pioneer of synthpop sound Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s  Andy McCluskey, who had enjoyed top ten success with  Joan of Arc and Enola Gay, all written by McCluskey.  Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark disbanded in 1996, which was the year The Spice Girls conquered the world. Perhaps fearing middle age, McCluskey was 39 in 1996, and seeing what Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh Spice had achieved, he decided to form his own all girl group two years later, with him as the chief song writer.  Coming from the outskirts of Liverpool, he decided to recruit and form a band from this area,   and the result was Liz McClarnon (10th April 1981), Natasha Hamilton (17th July 1982) and Kerry Katona (6th September 1980). Heidi Range of The Sugababes was actually an original member, yet left after a year before they had any chart success and was replaced by Hamilton.  Katona left in 2001, and replaced by Jenny Frost (22nd February 1978). Katona was certainly not an idol after leaving Atomic Kitten but has been in the public eye ever since, sometimes for the wrong reasons. However since their reunion in 2012, following their demise in 2004, she has returned to the fold, this time replacing Frost. By all accounts the door is open to Frost, who is now a young mother and committing her time to bringing up a family. McCluskey reformed Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in 2006.

Atomic Kitten currently ranked 17th bestselling girl group of all time, physical sales of 10 million plus records, which is no mean feat when you are only ten places behind The Supremes, so McCluskey and the girls have certainly done something right. And as for the girls, with every line up they come across as approachable who are enjoying life for themselves and their fans. Joy seems to be the key to Atomic Kitten and you can’t help but notice Liz McClarnon,  a beautiful lady with a beaming smile, sensual and elegant who entered onto the pop scene as a teenager, and still looks as fresh faced today.

Atomic Kitten - early days

In addition, McClarnon’s success spans farther than being  ‘a singer in a band’.   She won Celebrity Masterchef in 2008, became a sensational musical performer in War of The Worlds and Legal Blonde, a radio and TV Presenter and launched her own clothing range. None of these could be achieved and, more importantly, maintained by just having a ‘pretty face’. Therefore ZANI thought wouldn’t it be good to interview someone from a highly successful girl band, gain an insight into their world and their minds.  So one afternoon Liz kindly agreed to have a ‘quick natter’ over the telephone.

ZANI - In the studio, what project are you working on?

Liz McClarnon – It’s something I am excited about for next year, it’s a brand new idea. I haven’t spoken to many people about it; we are in the studio writing some new songs, with the team I always write with. I can’t divulge too much yet.

ZANI – OK, look forward to hearing it. So it has been a busy year with your clothing range, The Liz McClarnon Collection, how did that come about?

Liz McClarnon – Fashion World approached me because they had heard I was doing a fashion range. They asked me if I was interested in making clothes with them for women from sizes 12 to 32. Since the start of my career at 17, I have always ranged from being a size 6 to 16. What I wanted was if the size changes the style shouldn’t and that has always been a big thing for me.  I have always kept the same look even if my size changed. Sometimes you have to change your style depending on your size and that doesn’t work for most women.

Fashion World liked that idea, so we started with swimwear, we moved onto lounge wear, then lingerie and it keeps growing, we have just done our second season worth of stuff. It keeps getting better and better, and it’s selling exceptionally well. I am really proud.

ZANI – And so you should be, I take it that looking good is important to you?

Liz McClarnon - Atomic Kitten -2014.Liz McClarnon – I love clothes, I would love to say clothes are not important to me, but I can’t. Sadly (laughing) I do slightly have a superficial side, clothes and looking good are important.  

ZANI - As well as being a singer, fashion designer, musical performer, radio presenter on Heart FM, you now presenting on Vintage TV where people talk about their favourite track and personal memory about the song.  Having fun doing it?

Liz McClarnon – I absolutely love it, it’s opened a lot of doors for me. I have done a lot of TV presenting but it’s nice to get into the music side of things on TV which is the same with Heart. And to me it doesn’t seem like a job, it’s something I have a laugh doing. I am grateful that someone has taken a chance on me and given me this opportunity.

ZANI - What’s your favourite track and personal memory of it?

Liz McClarnon – I have to be quite cheesy, I am obsessed with the eighties. I was born in 1981, so I don’t remember the eighties too much. I was the youngest of eight cousins, who were born in the early and mid-seventies, and they got me into this decade of music. My favourite track of all time is Starship’s Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now. The song just uplifts me, most people know me as a pretty smiley and happy person, but when you are not feeling like that some days eighties music can put me back in the right place, and that is the song that just does it.

ZANI – Even from talking about music you sound happy.  You entered into the music industry at a very early age, and you were washing dishes at 13 in a care home, for want of better words it has been a rag to riches story.  

Liz McClarnon – Done that and much worse. I am from a fairly working class family, Mum’s from Garston and Dad is from Everton. We have a working class mentality; all of our lives have changed. Mum and Dad started a business when I was young, which didn’t do too well, so we were up and down, then they came up again, but it doesn’t matter how much we own we won’t forget our roots and are still Labour voters.

I shall always be grateful to my parents because they gave me a strong work ethic. No one in my family ever takes anything for granted and also they don’t resent anyone for being successful.

ZANI - How’s the Liz different today from the young teenager Liz, and what advice would you give her?

Liz McClarnon – “Don’t fall in love with a pop star”, no I am only joking. I am pretty hard on myself; I get disappointed when I am not happy with everything and that annoys me about myself. I wish I could turn round to the younger me and say in the great scheme of things it’s not that big a deal.  

Liz McClarnon - Atomic Kitten -2014.j222

ZANI - I think I would say the same to a younger me. When Atomic Kitten split in 2004, did you think that was it, or did you expect a reunion?

Liz McClarnon – I wasn’t expecting it, I am like that with relationships too, when it’s gone, it’s gone. I don’t reminisce; I just crack on with the next thing.  

ZANI - Have Atomic Kitten got new fans now?

Liz McClarnon – We have got new fans now, but they seem to be the children of the old fans.

ZANI – OK.  It’s no secret that Atomic Kitten was manufactured yet a soul and spirit has surely grown over the years?

Liz McClarnon – The first person I met from the band was Kerry (Katona), and she told me that she had said to Andy McCluskey that I was too tall and too young, but I believe she was joking.  She said the first thing she felt was a big sister thing for me, and that’s how our relationship developed.  We originally lived in a flat together, I was a very young person and Kerry was around for major parts of my life that a young girl goes through, so she was a big sister to me. Then Tash (Natasha Hamilton) came along, she’s a year younger than me, but she’s always been fun and loud with an old head on her shoulders.  So I still seemed to be the younger person, I suppose I was the most naive one.

It was weird because I was the  main songwriter but everyone was always looking after me, so when I would come along with a song I was always worried they wouldn’t like it, because I was just ‘little Lil’.  I was called Lil. The relationship developed easily and quickly, and I suppose that’s why we did have those little arguments and fights, because we loved each other to bits and shared the same career.

We fought with each other, but we also fought for each other and with that comes even more arguments, because you always want someone to better themselves for themselves and for the group.  So we always had those issues with different views, but it was never ever from ‘I can’t stand you’ viewpoint, it was always from passion.

ZANI – Fair enough. I understand before you joined Atomic Kitten, you wanted to study Law.  Is that right?

Liz McClarnon – Yes I did.  

ZANI - Do you still have an interest in Law?

Liz McClarnon - Atomic Kitten - French look.Liz McClarnon – Only the other day, I was talking to my mum, telling her I missed the fact that all of my close friends and family have a degree. Education was massive in our family. I have GSCE’s, but left college to join Atomic Kitten. I tried to do four A-Levels at the start of the band, then it went down to three, then down to two, then down to none, because I knew I couldn’t do both. Law was always an interest to me; I think in hindsight I would be a little too soft to be a lawyer.

ZANI – You may have got tougher as you got older?

Liz McClarnon – Perhaps.  I don’t like arguments with people, in saying that I don’t mind a bit of a confrontation every now and then. But I am looking at an Open University course, missed the deadline for this year. But I am looking into English language and English literature, which are big things for me, and maybe a bit of French.

ZANI – Nice one.  You seem proud of your Liverpool roots, what’s magical about the city to you.  For me I am a huge Beatles fan.

Liz McClarnon – Good lad. There are several routes I could go down.  For me we look after our own and we are proud of our own. I know you could say that about a lot of cities, but there is something  particular about Liverpool where we absolutely cherish our own.   Unless you don’t feel the same, and you have left the city, then we will let you go and we won’t think twice about you. I am not going to mention who I mean.

ZANI – It would be nice to know who you mean?

Liz McClarnon – Ha, we love our own.  I live in London, and I have to due to my work, but my home will always be Liverpool, there’s not one part of me that isn’t Liverpool.

ZANI - You’re an Everton supporter, fancy your chances in the Europe League, FA Cup. I’ve got to be honest I can’t see you winning The Premiership.

Liz McClarnon – We are not going to win the league, I know that. We are doing well in Europe, played a good game against Lille the other day.  I couldn’t go because I was working in London.  I made my poor stylist watch it with me.  She was saying to me  “I can’t believe I am drinking champagne and watching football” .

ZANI – That’s the perfect life for me.

Liz McClarnon – We are top of the group, but I worry about Europe because I want us to be able to prove ourselves in the premiership, but at the same time we have got to grow and take these responsibilities on, accept this pressure like the big clubs do.  

ZANI – You know your football. Everton have looked good in the Europe league, and they could go far. Tell us about Charity Youth Music?

Liz McClarnon – I have worked with Charity Youth Music for many years.  I haven’t done any campaigns with them recently but they have always been a big part of my life.  I got involved with them with Atomic Kitten. It was a big thing for us, children and music, getting them involved with music and seeing if that is something they wanted to do.

It’s changed a lot in schools over a short period, as kids weren’t really allowed to be involved in music unless they expressed a specific passion in a certain area of music, or certain instrument, whereas now it’s a major part of schooling and extracurricular.

/Liz McClarnon - Atomic Kitten -Everton

ZANI –I was shouted down by my teachers for being a Jam fan, which gave music its rebellious edge. Good to see now education at last understands the importance of music to young people, it adds so much to their lives and the rest of their lives, take me for example. You were brave to speak out about cyber bullying and stalking on Channel 5, something you wish to bring more awareness to?  

Liz McClarnon – It is something I wish to bring more attention to because it happens quite a lot. I still get the sad lonely bastards who have just finished their lunch or four o’clock in the morning when they are drunk, and they’ve got nothing else to do but to hide behind a computer screen and QWERTY keyboard and type “S H I T” to people for no reason.  I am not just talking about celebrities.

It’s hard enough when someone just turns round and says you are a slag and you have sex with your brother. These are awful things to say but to email them or post them on social media is worse as the words are there. The people that do this are horrible and can pick on anyone.  They find out something about you and just go for it. I can say that from day one of my career I have had death threats and rape threats. Depending on the day, who can just sit there and go “you are a lunatic”, “you are weird” and “it doesn’t affect me”, but sometimes it upsets me.  

I am fortunate enough to have people around to comfort me, but for those young people who are sitting there by their computers, by themselves, reading nasty things about themselves, they are young and impressionable. It’s scary, and the amount of suicides and self-harming because of it is horrendous. To a celebrity who gets that it’s a pain in the arse and sometimes upsets you, but to be a young teen and get shit like that when  you are by yourself it is nasty  because you haven’t got this bubble and network of people to protect you.  And as for the people that do this, they need to be locked up, because they don’t know nor care about the damage they are doing.

ZANI – The law is now getting tough on people that troll and passing custodial sentences, two years I believe and I feel they should get longer.

Liz McClarnon – Much longer.

ZANI – I hate bullying, cyber or physical. Moving to a lighter note, you appeared in a few musicals like War of The Worlds and Legally Blonde.  Is there a musical, and it doesn’t have to be current, that you would like to appear in?

Liz McClarnon - Atomic Kitten -Musical.jLiz McClarnon – For many years, before it was done on Glee, it was Wicked. I love the idea of it, because Glenda the character goes operatic and I was classically trained.  She can be sweet and silly, it’s a comedy role as well, my favourite type of part. I have had a lot of offers, and due to time I haven’t been able to commit to them, which really hurts me. But I would like to do something brand new, I think I am waiting for someone to come along with something and I say “please let me do that”. My confidence is up, so I am happy to do auditions, I want something new that really grabs me.

ZANI – Would you consider straight acting as well?

Liz McClarnon – I have been approached a few times and I am considering a new project now. But I can’t say too much.

ZANI - You like to keep your cards close to your chest, good way to be. Final question, if you were an item of clothing what would it be and why?

Liz McClarnon – A large hoody in a bright colour or a leather skirt, I have no idea why, they just came straight to my head.

It would have been nice to know why.  I suppose the enigma of her answer adds to the appeal of Liz McClarnon as she is highly appealing, with modesty, charm, honesty, warmth, humour, splendour and intelligence.  Ambitious but not ruthless, McClarnon seizes the opportunities that come her way and equally so appreciates them, living very much for the now with huge optimism, which is refreshing and inspiring. With her feet firmly on the ground, and still young, the world is certainly her oyster, Liz McClarnon knows that and will make sure she doesn’t waste a second of it.

Official Website of Liz McClarnon

Read 4469 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 April 2015 16:17
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ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


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ZANI is an independent online magazine for readers interested in contemporary culture, covering Music, Film & TV, Sport, Art amongst other cultural topics. Relevant to modern times ZANI is a dynamic website and a flagship for creative movement and thinking wherever our readers live in the world.