Lulu is a prolific singer, performer, and actress whose career has spanned more than 30 years. In the United States she is most widely recognized for her striking vocals on the 1967 movie title track “To Sir with Love.” However, in Great Britain the fiery performer has maintained a healthy celebrity status. From the launch of her career as a rambunctious teenager in the midst of ‘youthquake’ London, Lulu has appeared regularly on recordings, television, stage, and screen.
Lulu was born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie on November 3, 1948 in Lennox Castle, just north of Glasgow, Scotland. She began singing as a toddler and made her showbiz debut at the Bridgeton Public Hall at age nine. Remarkably, prior to her tenth birthday she had already appeared regularly with a local accordion band. This prompted Lulu, barely a teenager, to join area group The Gleneagles. In 1963, the band was discovered during a particularly wild show at the Scottish club, Le Phonographie. Impressed with the Gleneagles rowdy performance, owner Tony Gordon insisted his sister, London manager Marian Massey come right away. He wanted her to see the band and especially its feisty young singer. However, as with most young performers, Lulu’s act was not yet polished.
“She was 14 when we met,” Massey explained to writer Charles Mangel in Look magazine. “She bounced onto the stage of this teenagers’ club in Glasgow, Scotland—to sing—a little round bundle dressed in four cardigan sweaters, hair in curlers under an old fur thing, sniffling and coughing and wiping at her nose. I wondered what could possibly come out of this strange looking little creature.”
Massey did not stay concerned for long. She immediately signed on as The Gleneagles manager and promptly changed their name to Lulu and the Luvvers. Massey claimed that underneath it all, the rowdy Marie Lawrie was really just ‘a lulu.’ The band also included Ross Nelson on lead guitar, Jim Dewar on rhythm guitar, Alec Bell on keyboards, Jimmy Smith on saxophone, Tony Tierney on bass, and David Miller on drums.
Returning to London, Massey sought a recording deal for the group. Fortunately for the Luvvers, in the mid 1960s, Great Britain’s music scene was concerned with two things: youth and finding the next Beatles. Having both a teenage singer and a ‘beat’ sound proved an advantage. The band was quickly signed to Decca Records, home of the Rolling Stones. In 1964, a raucous cover of the Isley Brother’s “Shout” moved Lulu and the Luvvers into the limelight and up Great Britain’s top ten singles chart. The press embraced Lulu in particular. As a 1966 issue of Melody Maker explained, “Lulu is one of Britain’s brightest singing hopes. She combines good looks, professionalism and ability that lends itself not only to ballads but blues….
Born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie on November 3, 1948, in Lennox Castle, Glasgow, Scotland; daughter of a butcher; married Maurice Gibb, 1969; divorced, 1974; married John Frieda, 1976; separated, 1992; one son, Jordan.
Began singing in public as a small child, appeared at age nine at the Bridgeton Public Hall; joined Glasgow, Scotland group, The Gleneagles, 1963; Marian Massey became group’s manager and changed the name to Lulu and the Luwers, 1963; band signed with Decca Records, released first single, a cover of The Isley Brother’s “Shout,” 1964; Lulu left The Luwers, 1966; performed in Poland as first U.K. girl singer to appear behind the Iron Curtain, 1966; signed five-year contract with producer Mickie Most and moved from Decca to Columbia Records, 1967; scored number one hit U.S. single with the theme for To Sir with Love, in which she also had a minor role, 1967; hosted her own musical variety show on the BBC1, 1968; left Columbia and Mickie Most, signed to Atlantic Subsidiary Atco, 1969; released New Routes, Ateo, 1970; teamed with David Bowie for a remake of his song, “The Man Who Sold the World,” 1974; signed to Japanese label Alfa Records, released single “I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do),” 1981; signed to Jive Records, recorded updated version of “Shout,” 1986; released Independence, Dome, 1993; co-wrote (with Steve Duberry) Tina Turner hit “I Don’t Want to Fight,” 1993; topped British chart as featured vocalist on “Relight My Fire” with teen pop group Take That, 1993.
Awards: Best Female Singer, New Musical Express (NME) Readers Poll, 1968; first place (tied) Eurovision Music Contest, 1969; Order of the British Empire (OBE) honor, 2000.
Addresses: Management —Louis Walsh Management, 24 Courtney House, Appian Way, Dublin 6, Ireland. Publicist— R.M.P., 9 Ivebury Court, 325 Latimer Road, London, W106RA, England. Website—Lulu Official Website: http://www.lulu.co.uk.
Her first hit ‘Shout’ was a raving rocker which gave the clue to her tremendous power.” The band briefly charted with their next single “Here Comes the Night,” a song which proved a smashing success for the rock group Them several months later.
Lulu’s personality enabled her to go from being deemed solely a vocalist to a multifaceted performer. During 1966-67, the dynamic singer was often seen on television with appearances on such popular BBC-TV shows as Stramash and the teenage magazine series The Whole Scene Going. The same year, Lulu went on a tour of Poland, becoming the first British singer to appear behind the Iron Curtain. When she returned, she decided to make a break from her back up band, The Luwers. “It became obvious I didn’t need to carry a group with me,” she told writer Jon Young of Trouser Press in 1982. Unfortunately, her subsequent singles released under Decca’s hand failed to match the success of “Shout.”
In 1967, Lulu switched labels from Decca to Columbia Records and in the form of a five-year contract initiated the help of esteemed producer Mickie Most. Their first collaboration, a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Boat That I Row” resulted in a hit for the singer by mid-year. The union also initiated one of the most prolific and successful periods for Lulu.
Unknowingly, the vocalist made one of the most fortunate decisions of her career when she agreed to play the part of a dead end school kid in the 1967 film To Sir with Love. Starring actor Sidney Poitier, the movie told the story of a teacher confronting prejudice in a difficult London neighborhood. Lulu garnered good reviews for her acting ability and authentic character portrayal. As writer Chris Welch noted in Melody Maker at the time, “Lulu is completely natural—and confident. There is none of the embarrassment that often happens when pop stars take to acting.” Lulu attributed having grown up in a notoriously tough neighborhood to her success in the role. “It was me,” she told Look in 1970, “because I really was a little bi***. You had to be where I came from to survive. You had to be able to fight and shout and spit.” In addition to acting credibility, Lulu also gathered respect as a serious recording artist. The movie’s theme song, which she sang, topped the United States charts for nearly six weeks, elevating her status across the Atlantic. Strangely, in Great Britain, “To Sir with Love” was relegated to the B-side of a single.
A string of hits followed. Lulu’s popularity increased as she saw “Lets Pretend,” “Me the Peaceful Heart,” “Boy” and “I’m a Tiger” all sweep up the charts in the late 1960s. Lulu was subsequently granted her own variety television show in 1968, which appeared on BBC1. In her continued reign of success representing Great Britain, the singer tied for first place at the 1969 Eurovision song contest with her single “Boom Bang A Bang.” The four-way tie between France, Spain, Holland, and Great Britain was the most ususal outcome the contest had ever had.
Shortly thereafter, Lulu, now under the tutelage of famed producer Jerry Wexler, began to move in a more soulful direction. She once again switched labels in 1969, this time moving to Atlantic subsidiary Ateo. The single “Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby)” and subsequent album New Routes, released in 1970, both achieved only moderate success.
Although the 1970s were not considered the most fruitful period in Lulu’s career, they did hold a particularly unique moment for the vocalist. At his insistence, Lulu teamed with rocker David Bowie to re-record his classic song “The Man Who Sold the World.” “A lot of people thought it was an odd pairing,” Lulu explained to Trouser Press, “but we had music in common and that’s a fabulous bond.” Bowie was seemingly impressed with Lulu as well. “I always thought that Lulu had incredible potential as a rock singer,” Bowie told Music Star in 1974. “I don’t think this potential had been fully realized.” Now on Polydor, Lulu’s rendition of “The Man Who Sold the World” was a victory, reaching as high as number five on the British pop charts.
Following a long break in 1981, Lulu signed to Japanese label Alfa Records and released what became a popular United States single, “I Could Never Miss You (More than I Do).” For the most part during the 1980s, Lulu recorded sporadically, devoting a great deal more time to stage and screen pursuits. During this period, she appeared onstage in Guys and Dolls and in a regular role on the British television show The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 .Surprisingly, Lulu made a triumphant return to the charts in 1986 with a disco tinged remake her first single, “Shout.”
After a ten-year hiatus from recording, Lulu released the R&B record Independence in 1993. Although it was deemed a comeback by many, Lulu didn’t exactly see things the same way. “I see it as a natural progression,” Lulu told the New York Times. “Some people have criticized me and said I should have never stopped recording. But it was perfect I did musicals, television drama series and I’ve been raising my son, Jordan. It was a great opportunity to do different things.”
Lulu continued to engage in successful collaborations throughout the 1990s. Encouraged by her brother, after almost 30 years, she began writing original music. This resulted in the ambitious entertainer co-authoring the Tina Turner hit “I Don’t Want to Fight.” Lulu was introduced to younger audiences during this period as well. In 1993, she performed with British teen pop group Take That on Dan Hartman’s “Relight My Fire.” The single topped the British charts. The same year, she linked with grunge band Soul Asylum with whom she jointly performed “To Sir with Love,” for Music Television’s (MTV’s) Unplugged concert series. Notably, in the late 1990s, Lulu also sang a duet with Elton John for Aida, his popular musical.
Something to Shout About, Decca, 1965.
Lulu, Ace of Clubs, 1967.
To Sir with Love, Epic, 1967.
Love Loves to Love Lulu, Columbia, 1967.
From Lulu…with Love, Parrot, 1967.
Boy, Epic, 1968.
Lulu’s Album, Columbia, 1969.
It’s Lulu, Epic, 1970.
New Routes, Atlantic, 1970.
Melody Fair, Atlantic, 1970.
To Love Somebody, Harmony, 1970.
Make Believe World, Chelsea, 1973.
Lulu, Pickwick, 1973.
Heaven and Earth and the Stars, Chelsea, 1977.
Lulu, Alfa, 1981.
Take Me To Your Heart Again, Alfa, 1982.
Shout, Decca, 1983.
Independence, Dome, 1993.
(Compilation) From Crayons to Perfume: The Best of Lulu, Rhino, 1994.
Absolutely, Dome, 1997.
Gaar, Gillian, G., She’s a Rebel, Seal Press, 1992.
Gillet, Charlie and Stephen Nugent, editors, Rock Almanac: Top Twenty American and British Singles and Albums of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Anchor Books, Anchor Press, Doubleday, 1978.
Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing, editors, The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, Faber & Faber Ltd., 1990.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Book of Who’s Who of Sixties Music, Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1992.
O’Pair, Barbara, editor, Trouble Girls: The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock, Rolling Stone Press, Random House, New York, 1997.
Rees, Dafyedd and Luke Crampton, editors, The Guinness Book of Rockstars, Guinness Publishing Ltd. 1989.
Rees, Dafyedd and Luke Crampton, editors, Rock Movers and Shakers, Billboard, 1989.
Look, July 28, 1970.
Melody Maker, February 12, 1966; February 19, 1966; February 26, 1966; April 29, 1967; May 6, 1967; July 29, 1967; September 9, 1967; November 11, 1967; April 27, 1968; June 1, 1968; December 7, 1968; January 4, 1969; April 19, 1969; September 20, 1969; January 16, 1971; November 24, 1973.
New York Times, June 9, 1993.
Observer, December 8, 1968.
Trouser Press, February 1982.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 15, 2001).
Lulu Official Website, http://www.lulu.co.uk (January 15, 2001).
Music Star, http://www.bowiewonderworld.com (January 30, 2001).
Ultimate Band List (UBL), http://www.ubl.com (January 15, 2001).
Additional information was obtained from publicity materials from the ABC Television Network, July 30, 1969; Epic Records, September 1967; and RCA Records, August 1978.