IAM keen to chat to Marc Almond, not just because of a shared Leeds student experience in the early Eighties, when his band, Soft Cell, all one-finger keyboard playing and Max Factor eyeliner, was the talk of the refectory.

Since achieving fame with his cover of Tainted Love – which recently appeared in Hollywood’s La La Land – Almond’s gone on to become a grandfather of synth-pop, a dabbler in Satanism and a creature defined by drugs/sex/spending excess. But he’s certainly a survivor, not only from a near-fatal motorcycle crash in 2004.

Let’s talk survival first, Marc. Growing up in Southport, in Lancashire, you didn’t have the easiest of times with your Scottish soldier dad, did you?

Before the family split, didn’t he once threaten to off you by putting a pillow over your head, upon realising your sexual preference was more Rock Hudson than Doris Day?

“We don’t talk about him anymore,” he says of the man who once turned up at his son’s school, drunk, and asked the teacher, in front of the class, if his son was homosexual. “He wasn’t the

greatest person in the world and I

hadn’t seen him since I was seventeen.

I had no connection at all when he passed away. But I’m glad I’ve got the Scottish genes.”

Does he wish he could have a chat now and tell him where he went wrong? “No, the damage had been so great and I don’t think there are conversations which we could have had. It would have been so hard to mend the relationship.”

It’s a little surprising, then, when he adds: “It would have been nice to have a dad,” in a soft voice.

“Going back to the mists of time when I was a small kid he seemed to be a good guy. And because my parents were just eighteen when I was born there was lots of pop music being played. The radio was on all the time and TV pop shows such as Thank Your Lucky Stars, Juke Box Jury.

“This is where I got my love of music from.

“When I was ten, I was bought a little black plastic transistor and found all the pirate stations. The Sixties was a great period for me and that’s why I keep going back to record Sixties songs.”

Almond is 60 now. He speaks four times that amount of words in a minute, at an amphetamine-fuelled rate, yet he no longer touches drugs. He sings Sixties songs in Shadows and Reflections, his new album of orchestral baroque pop and torch songs, as well as his own material and he’ll be performing tracks from it in Edinburgh next week.

But what of the journey; one minute he’s at Leeds Poly studying Art the next thing Peter Mark Sinclair Almond has changed his name to Marc (a homage to Bolan) and become a pop star with muso pal David Ball. Could he have imagined this when listening to his plastic tranny?

“Not at all,” he says, grinning. “I was in the choir at 16 and then I was in a local band playing the hits of the day, Bowie songs, the lot. I certainly had a yearn for performing but I never had an idea I would make a career of it.”

Enthusiasm for the music drove him onward. He says: “I remember seeing Alice Cooper on The Old Grey Whistle test and I’d be recording it on my little cassette and my mum would come in and shout, ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ and spoil it.

“I had all these influences, but I held on to Bolan. I liked him even more when the press seemed to go against him. I never lost my love of T Rex. Then came punk and disco. Mix it all together and what you end up with is me.”

What he ended up with in 1981 was Tainted Love, a cover of Gloria Jones’ 1964 flop. Soft Cell (on the verge of being ditched by their record label) dropped the tempo and the guitars and came up with a new sound that stormed the world and sold 1.35m records.

But was success bittersweet in the sense that Almond made very little money, not having written the song, nor the B side, which would have given him half the writer royalty?

“We were very naive at the time,” he admits. “The record company put Where Did Our Love Go?, another Tamla sound on the single, but it was the craziest decision we ever agreed to.”

Yet, he’s not bitter to have lost out on millions. “Tainted opened a lot of doors. I’ve just signed a major record deal, one an album of covers. And it’s all down to that little song that started it all.”

Almond’s eyes however were blinded by the white light of success. “I nearly lost my sanity a couple of times, but I found my way back,” he says of the drug binges, the hedonistic times. Was he prone to excess? “Yes. I was extremely excessive since I was sixteen. [To get back at his dad he flaunted his sexuality]. And then when you get a taste of pop stardom and money, and you’re in an environment that wants and encourages you to be excessive.

“I remember after one chemical-fuelled night I went in to a Mercedes dealership and bought this beautiful car. The only problem was I couldn’t even drive. I said to the friend who was with me, ‘Oh, well, you can drive it.’ And I never did drive that car, which we called Oscar.”

He adds, with a wicked laugh: “We’d be driving in the car, wearing leather jackets and t-shirts and be pulled over lots of times by the police, wondering what the likes of me was doing in a Mercedes.”

There’s a real sense that Almond loves to be cast in the role of the rebel, the marginal who refuses to colour inside the lines. It’s reflected when he talks about growing up a young gay man in

the 1970s. Despite homosexuality being made legal in England and

Wales in 1967 prejudice was still rampant.

Yet, in some ways he argues, things were better for gay people.

“We were together. There was more of a shared experience. The community was more unified and it was us against the world. We had this camaraderie, this anti-establishment force, this secretive, clandestine world which was exciting.

“And even though homosexuality was legal, it was in name only. We were still made to feel like outlaws and as such we’d meet in secret places. And this all added to the feeling we had something to overcome, to strive for, barriers to break down.

“But now I feel [gay] people are very divided. I hate the way the LGBT thing has emerged. It separates.”

He adds, clearly riding hard on a favourite s hobby horse, “I hate the fact sections have appeared, for example the transgender community, the lesbians, all divided. I don’t think there is such a thing as a gay community anymore.”

It’s taken a long time for society to change. Does he think the pop world, those such as Elton and Boy George and George Michael could have done more by coming out earlier?

“Well, I can speak for myself and say I should have done more,” he says, in apologetic voice. “I didn’t come out until 1987.

“But in the early eighties you were signed to a record label and told you had to invent girlfriends, and if you didn’t radio would never play your records again, that you’d be ostracised by the press. In short, your career would be over.

“I didn’t want to say I wasn’t gay, but I didn’t say I was gay either. And on top of that, I didn’t want to be defined as a Gay Artist. I didn’t want to be labelled and go into a ghetto. I just wanted to be a pop singer.”

He can understand why his peers didn’t come out either. “George Michael didn’t come out until he was outed by the LA police.” He offers a wry smile: “Boy George said he preferred a cup of tea to sex and at one point Elton married a woman. But you know, I don’t blame them because everyone was terrified.

“Then when Jimmy Sommerville came along he put himself on the line, a guy in an ordinary T-shirt and jeans, but sang about openly gay themes. He was incredibly brave, while the rest of us were hiding behind the eye-liner.” He adds, laughing, “I’m still hiding behind it.”

He’s still a rebel on the sidelines. “I’m glad there is gay marriage but wonder why someone would want to become part of the Establishment, or get married in a church that once hated you? It’s institutionalisation and marriage is about making you more accountable and taxable.”

Almond’s voice takes on a more serious tone when he asked about being gay in AIDS-rife Eighties. “I think we were all fearful. I lost lots of friends, especially in New York in the early days when I was recording there. And we had to suffer the ignominy of police bursting in clubs, wearing rubber gloves, and those gravestone ads appearing on television.”

On the subject of mortality, Almond almost waved goodbye when involved in a motorcycle crash 13 years ago this month. His head injuries were described as critical.

“I’ve still got the scars and injuries but I’m lucky to be alive.

“In the same hospital with me was a young 16-year-old guy who had been attacked and hit on the head with a brick and had similar head injuries to me. And I remember hearing the screaming, crying of his parents when he passed away.

“What happens at first is you sort of feel guilty in a way for having survived, and then you think you are really lucky. What this meant was I wanted to make my life into a big adventure. But that doesn’t mean I wanted to have more money or success, that’s never been the plan.”

Almond’s recovery to “some sort of normality” took five years, helped he says because he’d been “cleaning up his act” since the beginning of the millennium. “After the accident I was rescued by Jools Holland who took me on tour with him and it helped to get my confidence back. I really owe him such a lot.

“I probably shouldn’t have gone back on TV so soon because I was speaking such shambling nonsense, going through post-traumatic stress but I felt I had to get out there and on the road again, to re-start the adventure.”

The adventure these days is a clean one. He laughs, “I’m such a puritan now it’s unbelievable.”

So he no longer flirts with Satanism? “Oh, that was just a theatrical thing,” he says of a period when he’d probably taken one drug too many.

Almond reveals he’s now Nature Boy, looking to buy a home in the Highlands, to set up a nature retreat. Does he have a regular partner with which to set up his Heilan’ hame? “I have a long-time friend, and it’s a loose partnership,” he says. “And that’s enough for me.”

Is it, Marc? Don’t we all want to find, as Freddie Mercury once sang, somebody to love? He pauses and smiles. “Maybe I don’t have to,” he says, opening up. “Maybe there is someone there already.”

Has the rebel found happiness? “I am happy today,” he says.

“There’s always a little discontent inside, a central unhappiness inside, but that’s me, and it’s come out in my music. It’s who I am, and having a hundred love affairs is not going to put that right.”

He adds, with a pleased smile, “Success in life is getting enjoyment out of what you do.”

But he still needs a little eyeliner.

Marc Almond Live, The Usher Hall Edinburgh, November 5