Richard Purden

Portobello Road is in full swing - tourists gather outside the former lodgings of George Orwell and market traders wheel and deal beneath tightly packed, multicoloured houses as the smell of gourmet cheese and Caribbean food fills the air.


The character and heritage of the West London street, which is celebrating 150 years in business, have been preserved due to the diligent efforts of the community staving off an invasion of the chain stores.

In the heart of it all, Electric Cinema, one of Britain's oldest film theatres, has struck the balance between legacy and modernity. The filmhouse's redevelopment now extends to a private members club, Electric House - a favourite haunt of Lulu, for whom 2015 represents her 50th year as a recording artist.

She arrives late but apologetic, sporting a black cap and a red tartan shirt. At 66, despite the lessening powers of age she looks as good as ever after shunning Botox, the few wrinkles she does have seeming to authenticate her recent return to soul, blues and rock 'n' roll.

An assistant floats in with speciality coffee which, she says in one of many instances where her broad Glasgow accent reappears, is "f****** freezing".

Viewers of the closing ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Lulu's home city will recall her typically mid-Atlantic voice reverting to type.

"I wanted to be there," she says. "I suppose I had a bee in my bonnet about it because there had been such a hoo-ha about the London Olympics.

The sort of person I am and the way I was brought up, I felt responsible in a kind of maternal, over-caring way, which I know is ridiculous. My attitude was: are we going to do this or are we going to get slated? I was so grateful I was asked because I felt I could have been overlooked."

The last few years have seen a reappraisal of the singer's often neglected back catalogue. In 2007, The Atco Sessions finally gathered her recordings with Atlantic Records on which she worked with a crack trio of soul pioneers in Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin. Similarly, Shout! The Complete Decca Recordings in 2009 showcased her gutsy R&B roots on long-forgotten gems.

Both periods are now retrospectively acclaimed but produced slim pickings in terms of hits. In the aftermath of Amy Winehouse, Adele and Paloma Faith those cuts now sound strangely contemporary. The Decca years despatched Lulu's immortal smash Shout!

The singer first heard the Isley Brothers number being performed by a leather-clad, volcanic Alex Harvey in a sweaty Glasgow nightclub. It was a lightning bolt encounter. A combination of shifts in pop culture, a new awareness of her past and a lot of persuasion has taken her back to that fledgling juncture.

Beyond music she's a successful brand ambassador for a cosmetics range, has secured various acting roles for stage and screen and presented mainstream Saturday-night television.

Forthcoming long-player Making Life Rhyme is her first new music in a decade, the recordings and subsequent live tour forming a determined attempt to return to the soulful influences that found their way into her record collection as a result of foreign ships sailing into Glasgow throughout the late 1950s and early 60s.

The New York Times raved about the "power and passion" of her voice after delivering a collection of blues standards at BB King's club in New York two years ago. Critics were reminded of her rough, tough R&B credentials.

"After those gigs my band said: 'Look, this is where your voice sits, you obviously love doing this.' My first reaction was: 'Who's going to buy it? We'll never get a deal, it's a waste of time,' but they, and I suppose myself, talked me into doing it again.

"What people don't realise about me is that I'm all business, and this record is getting traction. Someone said to me recently: 'You'd always get traction,' I was like: 'Bulls***.' For years I didn't have any so I gave up because being in this business is tough."

She removes her thick black Ray-Bans to deliver an intense glare as if to underline the point. "It's for young people."

Current single Faith In You summons the infectious blue-eyed soul she captured with the producer who coined the term R&B, Jerry Wexler. The doo-wop pop of Heaven Help is a nod to Phil Spector's girl groups and how Amy Winehouse reminded her of own formative years.

The earthy and heart-torn ballad Cry secured the attention of Decca Records, the label she signed with in 1964 around the same time they scouted and released Rod Stewart's first single.

In 2013 they also re-signed Stewart. The result was Time, the singer's first chart-topping studio long player since 1976. The label is hopeful of making similar strides with Lulu.

"My original plan was to record an album of standards, but it turned out Decca were more interested in the original material that I had been writing with my brother Billy [Lawrie]," she says.

"To be honest, I thought it was strange because at the time nobody was playing anything new."

Although she worked with various collaborators, the relationship with her younger sibling was key. They previously enjoyed success after writing the Tina Turner hit I Don't Wanna Fight.

"It's very much my brother and I, even though there are other writers on the record."

The singer's maternal instincts towards Billy developed from an early age in a complex and sometimes violent home environment. "My mother couldn't get up in the morning because she was depressed," says Lulu.

"She would struggle like crazy. People didn't get diagnosed in those days so I'd get the washing, change nappies and do what I had to. I had issues around it, I was sad and angry but I had to cope. At the same time I loved my mother and father deeply, despite all the issues - they were good people."

The singer born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie and her brother assembled a wealth of songwriting experience with Lulu's first husband, Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

"Billy started working on songs as soon as he met Maurice. I remember saying to him that I wasn't a songwriter. He said, 'You must be kidding - you had a masterclass every day living with Mo.'" She was privy to Bee Gees songwriting sessions over the six years the couple were together.

"He always had a guitar in his hand," she recalls. "The three of them would sit around the house and say, 'Let's try to write the new Beatles or Beach Boys single.'" By the time they finished they had a new Bee Gees single.

"I always loved the great writers from the Brill Building," she continues, "like Goffin and King, and the Stax and Motown writers. The influence carries through to Bruno Mars, CeeLo Green or Pharrell because they write songs, it's not just by chance they come up with this stuff."

Songwriter and producer Bert Berns, who inspired the British Invasion of the Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Beatles to cover his songs (the last-named most famously with Twist and Shout), particularly rated Lulu's abilities.

"I loved working with Bert," she says.

"It was through him that I eventually signed with Atlantic Records. He had written Here Comes the Night - my version of the song was a flop, then Van Morrison brought it out [with Them] and had a massive hit. For a while I hated him [Morrison] for that."

Berns favoured a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page to drive Lulu's early Decca sessions, and his heavily distorted spine-tingling blues riffs were ahead of the curve. "He made this amazing heavy sound, at first it was like the guitar farted through this tiny fuzz box."

Her forthcoming tour won't feature what she refers to as her "rinky dinky pop tunes". She has an aversion to the hot streak she enjoyed under British record producer Mickie Most.

The music impresario delivered on his promise of securing Lulu a string of hit records including Eurovision winner Boom Bang-a-Bang, The Boat That I Row, I'm a Tiger and the American number one To Sir with Love, but Lulu's enthusiasm for the era is in short supply.

"Most of those songs were really not my choosing," she says. "I was told they were going to be hits and my response was: 'But I don't like them.' Maybe I have to be grateful because perhaps those records are the reason I have lasted so long ... But I can't sing those songs now - they don't touch my soul."

Others, such as Morrissey, have offered a different perspective. "I'm a Tiger is an expertly crafted piece of genius gibberish, a great record," he told Channel 4 in 1997. "Boom Bang-A-Bang ... these are records which we might not be bothered to burn but there is a cleverness and there is a craft [to them]. Maybe it's only people like me who see it."

Despite the success these records brought Lulu refused another contract with Most and jumped ship for Atlantic Records, recording at the legendary Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama.

"I had reached the end of the road with Mickie," she recalls. "I couldn't do it any more; I'd had it. Working with the Atlantic family I was overawed, so I let them do mostly what they wanted, as I often did. The song that really meant something to me was written by a Glaswegian, which was the weirdest thing, but it made sense."

Oh Me Oh My (I'm a Fool for You Baby) was written by Jim Doris, a former bandmate of Frankie Miller in The Stoics. "I remember Kenny Rogers said to me, 'Where did you get that song?'. I told him it was this kid from Glasgow. He was so talented but died young - I think the circumstances were quite tragic."

Like Woody Allen's character Zelig, Lulu appears in the shadows at many major musical happenings of the last century. Arguably the most vital example was Jimi Hendrix at his zenith appearing on the BBC show Happening for Lulu in 1969, his wailing feedback audible as Lulu struggles to introduce him.

It's a raucous moment featuring Hendrix playing with his teeth, knocking his guitar in and out of tune and cutting his then hit Hey Joe short to perform Sunshine of Your Love as a tribute to Cream, who had recently split.

Parents squirmed and Hendrix received a BBC ban. "It doesn't matter where I go in the world," says Lulu, "I will always get asked about that TV performance with Jimi. I'll always be connected to him through that moment."

Despite envisaging a long relationship with Atlantic the records didn't sell, and on Lulu's return to the UK David Bowie attempted to chart the course of her direction, making a substantial contribution to her recording of his song The Man Who Sold the World, which granted Lulu her biggest chart entry in five years.

"I still have a very soft spot for that version," said Bowie in 2002, "though to have the same song covered by Lulu and Nirvana bemuses me to this day."

As with many of her biggest hits, she is decidedly nonchalant, suggesting the best cut from the Bowie period is hitherto unreleased. "The package was great but for me personally not for a minute did I think The Man Who Sold the World was the greatest thing. I just thought, 'Do what Bowie tells you,' but that song Can You Hear Me [which he recorded for Young Americans], that was more my thing. It was a very soulful track."

Now a grandmother of two, the singer was at the heart of a titanic shift in British culture after being spotted by Marion Massey, her former manager of 25 years, who signed her up in 1962 after a performance at The Lindella Club in Glasgow.

"I wondered what could possibly come out of this strange looking little creature," she once said, "but there was something tremendously magnetic about this little girl. I knew she had the makings of a great star."

Lulu's longevity is perhaps down to Massey who she says was more than a manager, serving as a surrogate mother who provided a safe home and family environment for the young Glaswegian away from the predatory environs of the music industry.

"I was 15 when I was thrust into this insane world," says Lulu. "It was kind of daunting but also amazing to be at the centre of it all. I look back and think, 'Thank God.' If my granddaughter wanted to go into this industry I would do everything I could to persuade her not to because I came from completely different circumstances. I had an instinct about things growing up in Glasgow. I was lucky to come from the background that I did."

Lulu has one son, Jordan, from her second marriage to hairdresser John Frieda, from whom she divorced after almost 20 years as husband and wife in 1995.

Beneath her often chirpy exterior lies the experience gained from darker times.

"I can be pessimistic but I don't present that," she says. "If I'm going to work I try to be light. My mother used to say, 'Don't be a moaning Minnie.' It happens as you get older - there are times when you wake up in the middle of the night and you start to worry. What if I get sick? Will my son have to look after me? Will I be lonely on my own? I like being on my own but things would get crazy in the middle of the night. I sleep better now - I live in the solution and not the problem. I've dealt with a lot of that stuff.

"I've lived a life. I've lived through a lot."

Making Life Rhyme is out on Monday. Lulu plays the Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow on May 12.