Copyright 1996 Newspaper Publishing PLC

The Independent (London)

May 5, 1996, Sunday


LENGTH: 1569 words




Aimee Mann, 35, was raised in Richmond, Virginia. After studying at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, she began her career as a singer- songwriter with the band Til Tuesday. In 1993 she released her first solo album. She lives in Los Angeles with another singer-songwriter, Michael Penn.

Tony Banks, 53, was brought up in Brixton and educated at York University and LSE. In 1970 he was elected to the Greater London Council, and served as GLC chairman from 1985-86. Since 1983 he has been Labour MP for Newham North West. He lives in London with his wife Sally

AIMEE MANN: I was over here doing a tour two years ago, and somebody from my record company called me and said, "You've got a fax from an MP at the House of Commons." Being an American, it didn't really mean that much to me, but my record company seemed to be super-impressed by it. The fax was from Tony Banks and he invited me to have tea at the House of Commons. I thought, "That sounds interesting - if completely bizarre." So I had one of my friends who works at the record company go with me - because MP or no MP, a girl has to be careful!

Tea at the House of Commons was a lot of fun. It was very stuffy, and there were a lot of stares and speculative looks, which was amusing. There was no need to worry about any lack of conversation, since Tony is super- charming and very chatty. I realise now that he was probably nervous.

We talked about music. An assistant of his had given him a copy of my first album, thinking that he would like it, and he really took to it. He is fascinated by the whole artistic process, and was very curious as to where my songs come from and why I write about the things I write about.

He said that my album was his favourite record, but he also confessed that - I'll never let him live this down - his other two favourite records of all time are an Abba record and the Blues Brothers. So somewhere in between those two I lie! I ended up living in London for about six months after that and we spent a good deal of time together. He came to see a couple of my shows and he would invite me out to dinner.

I am always curious about people and have zero reserve so I get right to all the personal questions, and Tony and I became good friends pretty quickly. I think I am probably the only person Tony knows who will make him talk about his personal life and how he feels about things. I can't imagine who else he talks to about how he feels about politics, or how he feels about his parents or his wife.

Tony has his own personal demons that he wrestles with - worries about whether what he does is really worthwhile, secret fears that he is not good enough. I don't think he is the happiest of people at all times, and his biggest problem is that he doesn't think he deserves to be happy and successful. In a way, Tony is a little kid. He is just starting to think about questions that I was pretty much done with by the time I was 25, like "What does love really mean?" and "What is it all about?" I always say, "Tony, get yourself a therapist!" - but that's way too big for an Englishman! Maybe I serve that function for Tony, and I think my music does, too, because it is confessional in a way.

A lot of people like certain kinds of music because it says certain things that they can't say for themselves, and I would venture to say that the emotional aspect of my music is particularly appealing for Tony.

Tony has a strong sense of what's right. He's an idealist. He's dedicated to animal welfare and he is a vegetarian. I have heard him state, ridiculously I think, that he would trade the life of any human being for the life of any whale. I always say, "OK Tony - the last whale on earth versus your mother!" He always talks about his pet turtle. I can't remember the name of it, but it's ancient he gets all sort of misty when he talks about it. Personally, I think he probably identifies with anything with a hard, impermeable shell that just keeps going on regardless of circumstances.

Tony is the quintessential public servant, but alongside of that he's a little bit flashy - he's on TV a lot and he's very suave and stylish. I call him the champagne socialist. It's always fun being around Tony. I remember one time we were out to dinner on the South Bank, and it was getting late and there were no taxis to be found. A couple of guys were getting into a fire truck and I made some joke about hitching a ride. "Don't laugh," he said "I guarantee they would know who I am." I was like "No way - what an ego!" He said, "Okay, I'll bet you". So we walked up to them and said, "We're having a bit of trouble getting a taxi. Could you give us a ride?" And they said "Hello, Mr Banks, climb on in!"

I haven't met Tony's wife Sally, and I sort of worry about how Tony going out to dinner with some young pop singer is perceived. But I have strong personal rules against romantic involvement with married people, and I can publicly assure everyone that it's completely innocent.

TONY BANKS: I was given some of Aimee's music by a friend, and loved it. I saw that she was in town and thought I would like to meet and talk to her. So I invited her for tea at the House of Commons. That makes me a sort of old groupie, I know, and I also know that if I'd been someone who wasn't a Member of Parliament, my invitation would have been binned.

My first impression was that Aimee was very tall. In fact, because she is so slim she looks taller than she really is. We had tea and, because she inhabits a completely different world from my own, I found talking to her very attractive. I get bored with meeting the same people, talking about the same sorts of things. Like football, pop music is one of those areas where I can escape from my own reality. Having said that, I didn't just sit there like some starry-eyed, sad old git, milking her for her information; we had a discussion that spanned politics and the pop world and got on really well.

Aimee was more impressive than I imagined her to be, though I had assumed that she would have to be an impressive person if her work was a reflection of her. She is very creative and I love creative people. She is a complex character - I don't think genuinely creative people can ever be simple - who is subject to moods and mood swings and can get very depressed. When I first met her we spent a lot of time talking about the problems she was having with record companies, which were having a stultifying effect on her creativity. It depressed the hell out of her. Aimee rejects commercialism and won't prostitute her art, and I see a reflection of myself in this. I find it impossible to eat shit, and I am afraid that, to be successful in party politics, you've got to eat a lot of it and you've got to enjoy it.

After we first met, Aimee was recording over here for a while. We'd get together and talk, talk, talk, and we'd go out to eat. Aimee is not a vegetarian, but I keep working on her on that one. Her diet is healthy though, and when we sit and have a drink it's likely that I'll be having wine and she'll be drinking water. Aimee's passion is her music. What I like most about her music is one of the things I really like about her - her use of words. Words are my business as well and yet her language knowledge is probably more extensive than mine. If I'm stuck for a word, she'll supply the information.

Aimee's upbringing was a typically American one of fractured relationships. Divorced backgrounds either make you stronger or do you in. Creative people transform their personal experience into works of art and that's what Aimee has done. It is not for me to reveal her personal details; but the fact is, like a lot of Americans, she thinks professional therapy is normal. Over the years she's accumulated a great deal of wisdom for her age and I find talking to her very helpful. I find my life difficult because I am trapped in a job that I find deeply unsatisfying. I internalise an awful lot and it is therapy to be able to talk over how I feel with Aimee. To be perfectly honest, Aimee's a good counsellor for me.

Now Aimee is back living in the States, we have a passing friendship. There's no maintaining contact in between the times when she's jetting in and out of this country doing tours, and I haven't the faintest idea what her lifestyle is like in LA. Sometimes when she's flashing through it's not even possible to do any more than have a quick drink and a chat. Of course there is an age gap between us, and I am deeply conscious of that. "Ageing politician and American pop singer" has a certain tabloid ring about it that I find a little bit disconcerting. I think my wife wonders what my relationship is with Aimee. Spouses get worried when there is someone who you can talk to; but I think healthy injections of outside influences and friends that are separate strengthen relationships.

Like every good songwriter and poet, Aimee is a very shrewd observer of the world around her, and the experiences she describes are not all her own. In fact, she says her song "You're With Stupid Now" was partly inspired by discussions about politics that she and I had. Stupid is a good description of me. I'll never make it, and that's why I want to see Aimee succeed on her own terms. Then I can at least enjoy watching someone else succeed. !