Richard Purden

A smattering of tourists is posing under a blue plaque outside Alfred Hitchcock's former home in London.


A stone's throw away Shirley Manson strides out of her publicist's office in a grey leopard-print top, the crimson eyes of a big cat across her chest bleeding on to her own long red mane. In skin-tight black denim and killer heels, she has retained the tough glamour of her mid 1990s zenith, adding a vampish maturity, and the 45-year-old singer and sometime actor strikes a balance between noir star and salty Scottish lassie.

A free transfer to US alternative rock band Garbage from Edinburgh misfits Goodbye Mr Mackenzie in 1994 brought her instant notoriety in a decade where alternative music became a dominant mainstream force. Voluble almost to the point of indiscretion, Manson became a global poster girl.

The self-titled debut album produced a string of radio-friendly hits in the mid 1990s, including Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains. "It was the first time alternative music had truly infiltrated the mainstream," she says. "It was glorious and probably never to be repeated, sadly. That music dominated radio and MTV. It was unreal."

Although she's spent much of the past 18 years in the US, Manson's distinctive Edinburgh brogue is intact. "Sit down," she announces in a playful Miss Jean Brodie accent. "Yer at yer auntie's." There's no trace of a transatlantic drawl despite her settling full time in California with her husband of two years, music producer and long-term Garbage engineer Billy Bush.

Manson has admitted to missing some aspects of Scottish life, such as catching a bus, eating fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, walking on cobbles and watching Celtic. Despite that she's not been persuaded to join the likes of Rod Stewart and Billy Connolly in a Los Angeles Celtic supporters' club. "I don't like to pretend that I'm still in Scotland," she says. "I carry it with me. It's who I am and where I came from and it's where my core beliefs are from, but I don't want to be part of a fake Scotland. For the time being I love being in LA. It has a tight musical community, it's very supportive and everybody is busy doing something."

She's spent most of the past seven years away from music, although there was an attempt to write and record with Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile. Despite the project being aborted it was, she says, an amazing experience.

The break provided much-needed respite for the singer, who had suffered a split from her first husband, Scottish artist Eddie Farrell, and the loss of her mother in 2008. Several months later she was the subject of a Famous Scots exhibition in Edinburgh alongside Connolly, scientist Sir James Black and actor Tilda Swinton. "It was a huge honour to be asked – I was blown away. It was a moving emotional time. My mum had just died so it was strange to be delving into my family history but it was powerful, intriguing and funny."

Manson says her 10 years in Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and the lifestyle around the band were fundamental to her later success. She learned her trade in Scotland, being mentored by front man Martin Metcalfe, with whom she had a brief relationship and who possessed lashings of what rock writer Nick Kent described as "the dark stuff".

"It was a fascinating period, he was a fascinating individual; arguably the most talented person I have ever been in a room with. Martin had a unique voice and was the real thing – a bona-fide rock star – but he couldn't muster his forces for long enough to navigate a tricky business.

"I got all my education from Martin. I listened carefully to what he had to teach me about music and its relationship with books, film, style – he taught me everything I needed to know. When I went to meet the boys in Garbage they related to what I had to say about music. They had come from the mid-west of America, they were not part of a cool scene in New York or LA. It was an outsider status which we shared and in that way it was very similar to Goodbye Mr Mackenzie; we were a band of misfits with a certain perspective and that thread has remained with me.

"It was weird – the two bands had a lot in common. Even if you look at photos there are a lot of strange similarities. We shared the same aesthetic, moral compass and sense of humour, and we loved the same bands. It was just a different geographical location."

A number of Scottish acts have recently found a new lease of life. Simple Minds have returned to their pre-stadium catalogue and an era when they were contemporaries of Joy Division. The Skids and Big Country have reformed and sonic innovators and warring brothers The Jesus And Mary Chain have just completed US dates. Elsewhere in the UK, indie pioneers are capitalising on their legacies, none more so than The Stone Roses, whom Manson is itching to join at festivals in Germany and Denmark next month. A global tour will keep Garbage occupied for most of 2012. "It's an exciting time," she says. "I watched the road crew cases roll out with Russia, England and so on emblazoned across the front. It's going to be amazing sharing a stage with The Stone Roses. Their legacy has grown daily and I can't wait to see how it turns out. Their first record is a masterpiece."

As a result of the Coldplay effect, mainstream rock has entered a corporate era, not dissimilar to the one the likes of The Stone Roses and The Jesus And Mary Chain rebelled against. Surely in this spirit the time is ripe for a return to the dark poetry of Metcalfe and the rockabilly punk riffs of Goodbye Mr Mackenzie? "I love Fin, Kelly, John, Rhona and Martin, but Martin said some careless, hurtful things. I feel that bridge was well burned to the point I had to threaten to sue, it offended me so deeply, what he was saying in the press. All I could see was red because I had been loyal. I never made a penny from Goodbye Mr Mackenzie but when I received my first Garbage cheque I paid the band's debt to stop their families going bankrupt, yet there was all this trash talking."

Perhaps it's the clan mentality. Manson's story is reminiscent of the Apprentice Pillar legend that haunts Rosslyn Chapel, the master stonemason savaging his young learner in a jealous rage over his student's transcendent work. But what's without doubt is that Manson was "set upon the journey of her adult life" by Metcalfe while living in Stockbridge.

Manson's parents were Christians, her father a respected theologian, lecturer and geneticist, her mother a big-band singer. Today Stockbridge is one of Edinburgh's most salubrious areas, but in Manson's youth it was still mainly working class.

"I grew up in a conventional home," says Manson. "I had a devoted mother and father, and I'm grateful for that background now. It was consistent, conventional and pure of heart. I have nothing but great feeling about growing up like that, but as a teenager I was annoyed by the consistency of my home life and the conservativeness of it. I was annoyed by my provocative intellectual father and I railed against it. All the other kids I knew had broken homes and in my total ignorance I felt there was a glamour about that. I found it interesting that some kids would only see their father at weekend, some parents were gay and another was a prostitute. I would go home to my mother who would have supper on the table. After warming my pyjamas she would set the table for breakfast. I just thought it was boring as hell, like a spoilt little bastard.

"Until I met Martin, things were quiet, then he blew my world open. I was having great sex for the first time, I was in love, doing drugs and we were drinking like beasts. We lived a very rock 'n' roll lifestyle. We'd go to places like City Cafe and pubs in the Grassmarket like Valentino's or The Hoochie Coochie. I was a club girl and l liked to party, that's how I lived for a decade. My parents were horrified but they loved Martin, they knew he was a good, credible talent, and they knew I was happy."

Manson has summoned some of the flow of ideas from her early years in Edinburgh while writing Not Your Kind Of People, Garbage's fifth album. Drummer Butch Vig, who produced alternative game changers Nevermind by Nirvana and Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, suggests the new work returns to the spirit of the self-titled debut and its follow-up Version 2.0. After the success of the second multi-platinum and twice-Grammy-nominated album the band struggled to find their place in a post-9/11 world. The terror attacks appeared to dictate a sudden shift in the music industry's agenda and the public's appetite for "the dark stuff". Illness, family bereavements, divorce and even a 10-tonne lorry destroying their studio in a freak accident ramped up tensions in the band.

"I feel that, since September 11, fear reigns supreme and all over the Western world there's anxiousness," Manson says. "In the past 10 years nobody has wanted to look at anything scary, negative or dark. Since then we've had a decade of nothing but pop. There's been a proliferation of teenage pop music and pop idols; it's a classic thing that happens during post-war entertainment, during grim times you can't rock the boat or challenge. We've had 10 years of stuffing down our feelings or not talking about the things that scare people."

Although not fortified with the same black humour that was etched into the grooves of their seminal debut, Not Your Kind Of People stands up to the conviction and intent of their early work. "This was our mission statement," Manson says. "It was our flag in the sand, it was a bit of a war-cry and a bit of a kiss-off; there's an accepting of limitations and who you are and being unapologetic about that." It's also the album which shows the strongest genetic link to Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, the eerie, psychedelic title track recalling David Bowie's transitory character Halloween Jack. Felt pays tribute to the post-punk indie guitar band of the early 1980s. "I was looking up to bands I was obsessed with when I was growing up in Edinburgh like Win, the Fire Engines, Paul Haig, the Cocteau Twins. I started to look for that hook and wanted to pull out that connection. I came across Felt, who I'd completely forgotten about. Listening to them, I was reminded of how I felt when I first fell in love with those records."

The single, Big Bright World, is a typically radio-friendly earworm reminiscent of Berlin-period U2. Although not a particular influence on Manson, Bono resides in her inner rock 'n' roll circle, and she describes him as "delicious" before bursting into a laugh that seems to not just fill the room but the street outside. Her namesake, Marilyn Manson, has also became an associate after the pair recorded The Human League's Don't You Want Me. "He's super-smart and very funny," Manson says. "He reminds me in a lot of ways of Martin [Metcalfe], even to look at. I felt a real connection with him."

Some of that nocturnal energy can be found on the new record; Control is a full-throttle, harmonica-driven, blues-drenched beast which finds Manson summoning the same nefarious vampiric energy she delivered on the likes of Vow. "I love it when the guitars are roaring," she says. "It's an apocalyptic and intense song, and fresh for us. It feels like us but more rock 'n' roll."

Opportunities for off-duty rock stars are more forthcoming in Los Angeles than in Edinburgh. While the band were on hiatus, a half-serious discussion at an party led to Manson's first acting role, playing a psychotic, shape-shifting cyborg in the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. "When I got the job as a Terminator I had to create something to call on, something human as well as being a machine. The most terrifying women I could think of was Margaret Thatcher – she stood out as the most sinister."

As we prepare to wrap up the interview, Manson reflects on some favourite moments which include her induction of Blondie into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. There's also the kudos of recording one of the most critically acclaimed Bond themes of recent times, The World Is Not Enough. But eclipsing the chart toppers, awards and rock-star buddies is the Edinburgh gig in Princes Street Gardens that heralded the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. "That was historic and it meant so much to my family," Manson says. "It was an incredible time." In the same breath, though, she adds, "I'm vehemently against an independent Scotland. I hate boundaries and I hate people focusing on what makes us different. I'm interested in how can we live together."

Manson once said on US TV that she couldn't drive, while praising Edinburgh's bus service. To the host it sounded unapologetically foreign. Today she admits that driving in the sprawling metropolis of LA brings her one of the greatest pleasures of her life. On the drifting highways Manson sounds like a typical exiled Scot, contemplating the eastern suburbs of Edinburgh, the Joppa Rocks and the coast at Portobello.

"Scotland has changed so much. It's different every time I come back – it becomes more cosmopolitan and more beautiful," she says. "You can't walk anywhere in Los Angeles. I love the pub culture which you don't have in LA. I love going to art galleries, to the beach and to Stockbridge.

"I'm lucky I grew up in an unbelievably rich culture and the more I travel the more I feel privileged about where I grew up. I have real respect for Scotland and Scottish people – they have no enemies in the world anywhere. At this point in my life I've been almost everywhere and almost always people are happy to meet you as a Scot. Very few nationalities can precede you into a relationship with someone.

"I have a yearning; I can't help it. I miss everything – the weather, the atmosphere, the beauty, the spirit. Everything. I haven't lived in Edinburgh full time since I left to join Garbage but I still have a home there and it will always be my home." n


Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage is released on Stunvolume on May 14. The band play Glasgow Barrowland on July 4. Visit