Actress, artist and musician, is there anything this renaissance woman can’t do?
Podcast – Rosie Coxshaw, Words – Nancy Larman
Lois Winstone may hail from an East End acting dynasty, but you’d never guess from her demeanour that her family inhabit so stellar a world. She arrives for our interview bestowing kisses and is all apologies and enquiries after my wellbeing. “Hi hun, you okay? So sorry I’m running late…don’t worry about showing me the questions, let’s just keep it natural.” And with that breezy introduction, she sets the stage for a matey and meandering chat devoid of the preciousness those well-acquainted with fame can be prone to.
And she is a proper East Ender too, having been born at St Bartholomew’s and grown up in Enfield. “I’m a little street urchin,” she jokes, her crescendoing raspy laugh fantastically dirty. “I had the best years of my life on my council estate up on Lavender Hill. It was the 90s, the kids could leave their doors open, there was good music about. We then moved to Roydon to a house, which we felt really lucky for.”
And as for all proper East Enders, family is at the heart of Winstone’s life. “We are a strong unit,” she enthuses. “My Mum is the inspiration for us all, she’s really the artist of the family. She’s the best mum in the world, my best friend and all-round hero. I feel blessed, going from rags to riches, though we always had riches in our hearts.”
We made a lot of mistakes, now it feels like we know what we’re doing – not just with the music, but understanding the industry
Elaine Winstone, materfamilias of the Winstone clan, studied at art school, while, famously, father Ray’s trajectory saw him go from humble beginnings to hitting the silver screen, typically in ‘hard man’ roles. With parents like those, it seems inevitable that both Lois and her sister Jaime would gravitate towards the creative, though for Lois the urge spans the artistic gamut, from acting to music to fine art. With the former, it has been to her father that she has naturally looked for encouragement; she has acted alongside him multiple times, in Gary Oldman’s 1997 film, Nil By Mouth, as well Last Orders (2001), Everything (2005) and Hot Potato (2011), while her latest acting role was in that mine of great British actors: Game of Thrones, for which she went out to Belfast without even having been allowed to peek the script. “The Game of Thrones sets are beautiful, the work that goes into them and the costume. I had to learn a monologue before because the script is so top secret. And they put rice crispies on my face and gave me syphilis – lovely!”
Despite their shared screen time, her approach to her craft is, she explains, born of different motivations to those of her father. “Where I look at acting creatively, for him he goes to work. I can’t say that I’ve ever enjoyed working with my Dad because I’d rather work on my own in a way, though Hot Potato was good because we filmed in Brussels and spent a lot of time together in this beautiful place. But now I’m going to stick with what I’m good at: music.”
You get the sense that while she expresses her creative impulses through a myriad of outlets, for Winstone, music will always be the imperative in her life. Now she’s back as the front woman of her band Lois and The Love after a period exploring work with orchestral metal band Wychhound, and with Mr. Psik, a producer and tattoo artist. “When I was little, I would always be hopping around to Annie Lennox and saying ‘Watch me!’ My parents were like, ‘Oh here we go, we’ve got another little diva. Go to bed!’ I’ve always known that I wanted to sing or dance and write poetry.”
Now seems like the moment for Lois and The Love and that she feels it too is palpable. “I feel very positive. We made a lot of mistakes, now it feels like we know what we’re doing – not just with the music, but understanding the industry. The tour of the UK should happen this summer – and then on to America. We’ve already got an album, which has a very American sound, which we produced with Youth, Martin Glover from Killing Joke. It’s quite Blondie. It’s uplifting. It’s raw.”
I look up to Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks – I love their power
Whilst she has many musical heroes, she feels that empowered positive women are currently underrepresented. “I’ve always wanted to be a solo performer but I think there’s something lacking with women in the music industry at the moment. People like Courtney Love… I always loved Nirvana but there’s more to women performers than that seedy, heroin side. I look up to Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks – I love their power.”
It’s rare that Winstone isn’t busy making work, whether she’s writing on the spot to a beat a producer has sent her (“if you write from the soul it comes naturally”), playing her guitar, making sculpture or drawing charcoal portraits of her wide circle of friends. Her big musical heroes growing up are, she says, now ‘mostly dead’, before reeling off a list of some of the greatest-ofall- time rock gods that spans Prince and David Bowie to Johnny Cash to Nirvana, while nodding to a few talents that are still kicking, including Fleetwood Mac (“they have heart and soul beyond belief”) and Madness. She rails against the vogue for reliance on computergenerated sound. “I see a lot of producers becoming lazy,” she laments. “Let’s just throw away our computers – why use a drum machine when you can just play the drums? I love digital but we need to think for ourselves more. As human beings, we need to keep it more raw, go back to vinyl. MP3 squeezes down and loses the soul – this is why I don’t use Soundcloud.”
In earlier years, Winstone garnered a reputation as a party girl. These days, she says, she’s happy to be booze-free and work-focused. “I’m getting my nut down for the minute, grafting. Time slips away, so we have to cherish the moment we have.” “The most truthful people in my life are my sisters, Jaime and Ellie-Ray. They to me are my role models, they are out there man. My sister Jaime is she’s fearless. Her baby, Raymond, is my world.”
Although she describes herself as a tomboy, it is ultimately to women that Winstone looks for strength. “Women are the warriors of the world, we are the heart. A lot of religions put women down, I’m a very spiritual person. We have to spread the positivity.” Staying positive is something that comes naturally to Winstone. She reflects: “Everyone has and does suffer to a certain degree. But there are people being bombed in this world and I always think when I moan that I’m acting like a spoilt brat. We must remember what we have.” And what we have, she believes, we should share. “We are all immigrants, our ancestors were immigrants. This idea of building walls. Around what?” This impulse to share is entirely worthy of Lois Winstone: open-hearted, talented, strong and above all, a product of her extraordinary family.