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The Times (UK)
December 18, 2001

On the road with the Tori party

by Glyn Brown

Singer Tori Amos, women's campaigner, mother and believer in fairies, invites our correspondent to join her tour

Backstage in Glasgow at the midway point of her British tour, Tori Amos is giving out some fighting talk. "Someone asked me today about the issue of giving money to somebody like Eminem by covering his song." Huh. "I wanted to say, do you think the piddly-squit amount they get from that matters to them? That is not the issue. When people are dancing to words about cutting women up, something needs to be said."

Amos is pretty slight to be a crusader; but size isn't everything and, anyway, the pen is mightier than the sword. What's ironic is that the Carolina-born Amos is the daughter of a preacher, against whose moralising she initially rebelled. Her songs are sexy, eloquent and often heartbreaking, detailing, on the cathartic side, her painful relationships and even her miscarriages. More than once she's poked fun at God, suggesting, for example, that he's off in his golf buggy when he should be concentrating. Oh yes, and she believes in pagan faerie forces which, taken together with her mind-blowing honesty, once had critics lining up to call her nuts.

At 38, however, she's no longer wired or tortured. Married to her laid-back English sound engineer, Amos at last has a child, 16-month-old Natashya Lorien. And it's Tash, in part, who prompted her mother's new role as a vigilante against woman-beaters. Amos's new album, Strange Little Girls, is a collection of 12 songs written by men, including 10cc's I'm Not in Love and Eminem's ditty about killing his wife, '97 Bonnie & Clyde. But Amos takes the boys for a scary walk on the wild side to see how they like it and, though the songs provoke thought rather than gun-toting action, she emerges as a cool cross between Emmeline Pankhurst and Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle.

Amos is a trouper. Having completed 35 US dates, she heads to the Continent after this tour and is due to notch up 50 performances. In between, there's television and radio to do. More importantly, there's Natashya to look after. Tash is already quite the rock chick, having smeared chocolate-covered strawberries over the walls of the Four Seasons hotel in Seattle. Her mark is on the tour bus, too. The Amos coach bulges with Sesame Street toys and Beatrix Potter books.

Mid-afternoon on Wednesday at Glasgow's Clyde Auditorium, Amos soundchecks while Joel, her bronzed surf-god minder, hovers just feet away. Amos finishes a storming number in the empty hall to an unfair silence and the Bugs Bunny chew of her gum, echoing through the mike. "Was that OK?" Downstairs, the laconic chef Duncan Pickford has his mobile kitchen laid out in no space whatsoever. He's wearing a T-shirt that says "I smile because you've all driven me insane". In America the tour played symphony halls, where they don't like rock acts (though they like the money). There, his T-shirt read "I'm trying to see things from your point of view but I can't get my head that far up my bum".

As the crew drift in, Amos's husband, Mark Hawley, appears with cute, blonde Tash, who is jet-lagged but sprightly and insists on putting her whole hand into someone's yoghurt.

Up hundreds of stairs, Amos's dressing room is the required sanctuary of candles, opera and unbearable heat. This tour, her sole companion on stage is her piano, a vast Bosendorfer which occasionally buckles floors and, naturally, has a personality. "To me, she's really the soul of the thing," says Amos, buttoning another woolly. "She gives me courage when I don't have it. The hard part is that I'm always waiting for Tori Amos, the performer, to walk through the door. I mean, tonight she hasn't shown up yet. Sometimes I think, 'Y'know, it's five to nine, are you coming?' And I bought her some really cool shoes today."

She laughs because, hey, that's the way to deal with nerves. "I have to hope she comes. But when I'm ready to falter, I see that piano from the wings, and the piano looks at me, and winks, and says, 'The bitch wouldn't miss this for the world. Just trust.' And I say OK."

Tonight's show kicks off introspectively, then Amos lets rip, vamping the piano with one hand, a Hammond organ with the other, red hair flying. Veering between performance artist, comic wit (top notch at that) and bruised avenging angel, she inhabits the songs, or perhaps it's vice versa; at any rate, during Me and a Gun, an account of her rape at the hands of a fan, she seems close to tears.

Later, sipping ginger tea, Amos prepares to meet fans queuing in the frost. I wonder how she's keeping going, when Natashya's fond of getting up in the night. It doesn't seem an issue. "Thing is, if she wants to play, she's more fun than almost anyone. You sit and read these baby books and you might be half asleep but it's a blast, because I've never really known this kind of love." She shrugs, a bit embarrassed. "Also, there's no time now to concentrate too much on yourself. You can't go over and over what you should've done in the show, because you're reading Babar and playing with the crocodile, and then you're in Manchester."

Easy? The truth is we're up at 6am, pulling out in the misty dark, Natashya tired but high on Weetabix. Peeping from Joel's flight case is a bottle of baby formula and the Hello Kitty overspill. Wagons roll.

Manchester is sunny and several degrees warmer. In the bowels of the Apollo Theatre, Pickford tells me he's made up a mix of essential oils to help Amos ward off the flu bug invading the tour the whole place smells like Deep Heat.

Amos, meanwhile, is thinking about the Eminem number that opens each show. Instead of his strutting machismo, she delivers the song from the dead wife's point of view, reaching a ghostly maternal hand to the tiny daughter his lyric makes complicit in the murder. Eminem's fans hate her cover. "That's the greatest compliment I've received," she says, teeth gritted. "My version invades his space, and men aren't used to feeling invaded, it drives them mad. Empower the wife, give her a voice. That's how you are an activist, I think. Is the song pretty? No, but I never said it was." Her blue eyes blaze. "Singing it is not a tribute."

The Manchester show is a triumph, from Joe Jackson's Real Men ("There's women running past you now, and you just drag your feet") to sexually-charged blues-rock, with Amos using her tongue and breath for percussion. Then, as she heads towards hurtin' territory, something odd occurs; people approach the stage then drop to their knees, gazing up like puppies. The girl beside me, poor thing, is sobbing her eyes out.

The final night is London's Hammersmith Apollo, where a soigne audience is moved to roar its head off. They've no idea that, when the travelling circus left Manchester at 2am, the heating on the bus conked out. Amos spent five hours trying to keep Natashya warm, with the result that the flu finally pounced. Despite it, she roars and purrs, glamorous in fishnets. By the end of the second encore her voice has gone completely.

She gets the flight for Berlin next day in a welter of blankets, bobble hat and instructions not to talk. But someone like Amos won't lose her voice for long. She can't, after all. She's got things to say and people, it seems, who really need to hear them.

Strange Little Girls is released on EastWest Records


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