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The Observer (UK)
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Tori Amos sings for her supper
Amy Raphael visits an American in Cornwall
Tori Amos has never been one to approach things in a half-hearted way. On stage she can look like a woman possessed, sitting at the piano with a halo of blazing orange hair, letting her voice carry her where it will, unafraid to experiment or make herself vulnerable. She has written candid songs about rape, miscarriage, the Iraq war and, most recently, orange knickers. As someone prone to apparently random behaviour, it should come as no surprise that when she decided to move to England, Tori chose not London but a field in the south west.
"I followed love to Cornwall," she says softly, a smile sneaking across her face. "In 1997, my husband had just proposed and we couldn't agree on north or south London. I said, 'what about America?' He said, 'Bite your tongue!' He used to go to Cornwall as a boy, I'd travelled around with friends... so, for love, I said OK."
Mark Hawley, the recording engineer who became Tori's husband, found an old cottage near Bude. The couple stripped and modernised it, draping fairy lights everywhere for a warm glow. It is surprisingly modest - not because Tori is ostentatious but because rock stars tend to be show-offs. "I like cosy, intimate houses," she says, shrugging. "And Mark really picked it for the barn, which is now a recording studio. People say they feel really welcome when they come here and that's all we hoped for."
It is certainly a sociable house. Each day more than half a dozen people turn up for lunch, most of whom are working in their studio, Martian Engineering. Not that 41-year-old Tori ever cooks; she laughs at the idea. "Are you kidding?" For the past six years, most of the food Tori has eaten has been made by Duncan Pickford, a chef who worked with Boyzone and Robbie Williams before moving to Cornwall to work exclusively in the Amos-Hawley household.
Duncan explains that he knew how to feed Tori pretty much as soon as they met. "We developed a low-carb, low-fat regime with a lot of very clean protein, a lot of fish - but she's allowed to cheat, too. Knowing her as I do, I can almost tell at a glance what sort of space she's in and what she needs," he says, laughing. "She eats more comfort food in the studio because she knows she has time to work a few pounds off, but on the road it's all about stamina."
It can be quite tough finding quality produce in the south west so he's got an organic vegetable field down the road and, of course, the local fresh fish is sublime. The lobster he serves for lunch is simple but succulent - cooked with garlic, olive oil, butter and oregano - and a perfect antidote to the luxurious lentil and chicken soup starter. Another favourite of fried catfish with tomato relish - "yum yum," says Tori - is often accompanied by a fine bottle of wine in the evening. "We take a wine cellar on the road," she explains, "but we never indulge till after the show. I only drink good wine; if not, I'd rather drink water."
Tori clearly trusts Duncan and sees him more as a friend than an employee. He eats with her if he can and looked after her during her pregnancy - no simple matter given that she had suffered a series of miscarriages and thought she was destined not to be a mother. 'It was difficult,' she says. 'I became a mom at 37 and having a child has been an emancipation for me. Tash is four now and makes me feel young.'
Tori smiles; she seems calm when she talks about her daughter. "When I leave home to go on tour, she's started saying: 'Tell Tori Amos not to take my mommy away.' I have to respond: 'Tori Amos buys the dollies, be nice to her. She doesn't mean to take mommy away.' Yeah, she does listen to my music: she likes 'Ribbons Undone', her own song on my new album, and 'The Power of Orange Knickers', which Damien Rice sings on, too."
The Beekeeper is Tori's ninth album and, with 19 songs, it's a bit of a concept album. There's a religious theme, with Tori going back to her upbringing as the daughter of a Methodist minister in North Carolina for inspiration, but it sounds more like a wild Kate Bush than an evangelising eccentric. Tori has always been a rebel of sorts - she was expelled from Baltimore's prestigious Peabody Conservatory at 11 and the press often haven't known how to deal with her.
As Bjork is always an Icelandic elf, so Tori Amos is always kooky, and her playfulness can be hard to read. On the cover of her 1996 album Boys for Pele, she was photographed suckling a piglet. "If I were a journalist, there were 70 ways of looking at it, but I don't think kooky is one of them."
Tori is not sure, however, that she really cares what anyone thinks any more. Having a child has taught her to be less obsessive about work and recent experience has made her focus on the positive. But nothing will stop her from revealing the sort of things other rock stars don't mention. Towards the end of our conversation, we go back to food and to Tori's favourite London restaurants - E&O, Tamarind and Le Caprice.
"I went to Le Caprice the night before I got married with some of my closest friends, including two who are no longer. My brother died in a car crash in November. It was a shock." She pauses. "And Kevyn Aucoin, the make-up artist, died a couple of years ago. Whenever I go to Le Caprice, it's for the food for sure, but it's also because I can look across the room and see those two wonderful men smiling and laughing that night without knowing... what was to come." She pauses again, then smiles, a smile as hopeful and bright as her hair. "It has made me value my family life. Life is fleeting. It is to be enjoyed."
The Beekeeper (Epic) is out now
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The best of Tori's Cornwall
Where foodies eat and shop in the west
New Yard Restaurant, Trelowarren, Mawgan, 01326 221595
A picturesque French restaurant set deep in acountry estate. The kitchen uses Cornish produce and wild ingredients gathered from in and around the estate.
St Petroc's Bistro, New Street, Padstow, 01841 532700
Rick Stein's unpretentious bistro, in a handsome building, is relaxed, delicious and fun.
Black Pig Restaurant, Rock, Wadebridge, 01208 862622
Michelin star-winning food from one of Rick Stein's breakaway chefs, served in tiny premises.
Quayside Fish Centre, The Harbourside, Porthleven, 01326 562008
A great range fish caught only by day or inshore boats who don't use nets.
Halzephron Herb Farm, 62 Fore Street, St Ives, 01736 791891
An amazing selection of herbs to buy and plant, plus products to contain them.
The Smokehouse, Islington Wharf, Penryn, 01326 376 244
Buy delicious cheese and fish smoked using apple, cherry and almond wood.
Stingi Lulu's, Next to the Royal Cornwall Museum, River Street, Truro, 01872 262300
Pacific rim-style food cooked in front of you. Tuck in and then visit the gallery.
The Lugger, Portloe, Truro, 01872 501322
A pretty dining room and sunny terrace with a glorious view across the harbour. The fish is so fresh you can see it being landed from your table.
The Cheese Shop, 29 Ferris Town, Truro, 01872 270742
Most incredible selection of cheese presided over by the knowledgable proprietor, Dr Stephen Gunn.
The Lizard Pasty Shop, Beacon Terrace, Lizard, Helston, 01326 290889
Ann Muller's pasties with just the right balance of meat, veg and light pastry.
Bangors Organic Tea Rooms, Poundstock, Bude, 01288 361297
Home-made cream teas served in a lovely Victorian house. Everything on the menu is Soil Association certified.
Roskilly's Ice Cream, The Croust House, St Keverne, The Lizard, 01326 280479
Made from organic milk, Roskilly's makes the best ice cream in the county.
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the World of Tori Amos