It’s quite a good time to publish a book. Why now, though?
"The fact that it’s coming out now is by chance! But I watched a film a while back about Tina Turner and I was talking to Lucy O’Brien and she said, ‘You should write a book.’ She teaches too and a lot of the people she teaches wanted to know about how I’d done things. I let it fester for about three months and thought about whether I had anything to say.
"I realised that every time I get asked about the ’90s people ask me about Britpop. But there was a massive rock scene, loads of bands! In some ways people going on about Britpop was in danger of erasing what we’d done. The more I thought about that, the more I got angry about it and I thought people may want to know how a black girl from Brixton ended up being in a rock band. There was also a lot of other music going on in the ’90s – trip hop, drum’n’bass with Goldie, Björk and electronic music, and a massive rock scene. We were this diverse band that came out of this weird scene around King's Cross and [I didn't want to] let our story be cast aside."
In the book you talk about your childhood and you describe music as an escape. What were you escaping from?
"Well, the thing is that I’ve talked to a lot of my friends in bands and they said, ‘Yeah, my dad gave me this record when I was eight,’ or, ‘I heard Led Zeppelin when I was four years old.’ I didn’t have any of that. The music I was hearing was R&B, soul and reggae, and it was good and I love it, but it wasn’t me. I had to work my way to rock music. I didn’t have that environment where I was given a guitar at eight and given a background in rock music. I watched Top Of The Pops where they used Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love and that was the first piece of rock music I heard, but it was like a piece that was on an island, and I had to work my way to that island.
"Everything I’ve done, I’ve had to discover it and work it out for myself. I suppose that’s what the whole story is, really. It was a real journey to get to rock music. People said to me, ‘That’s not your music,’ or, ‘That’s the music of the oppressor.’ They said it was a white thing and it was a male-dominated thing. There was lots of that: the idea that this wasn’t what I was meant to do. But it was a very natural thing for me to like rock music, just not for anyone else I knew."
Your family come from Jamaica but you were born in the UK, so you had a dual identity. That seemed to hit home when you visited Jamaica and you found the patois hard to understand.
"Yes, it hit me then that I wasn’t Jamaican – not like my mum was. My mum was a real Jamaican from Jamaica and I’m a British person with Jamaican heritage. It was really uncomfortable going there and not being able to understand certain things that were being said, while being painfully aware that British people didn’t see me as being British. They say, ‘Where are you from?’ I’d say, ‘I’m from Jamaica,’ and I’d carry that flag, but that wasn’t the truth. There was that identity crisis, and then there was the question of musical identity.
"I felt awkward and there were parts of myself I used to hide. I liked all types of music, but I kept the fact that I liked rock music hidden because, as I said, people thought it was weird for me to like rock music. I liked Stevie Wonder but I was searching for something else.
"There was also the gay thing, too. I wasn’t after the boys in the same way that the other girls were after the boys so I’d pretend that I was aloof. There was a part of my character that made me feel odd. Even my hair! I didn’t want ‘black girl hair’. I had a curly perm! There was a lot of discomfort with my life and my situation, so that’s what I needed to escape from. I needed to get the chains off from where I was from. It’s funny because as you get older you want to go back to where you’re from, and you go back there with strength and as a new person, but I think when you’re a kid you just want to escape."
You mention strength but you also mention anger. How important has anger been in shaping you?
"I think it’s been vital. I also think that rock music is a great place to express that anger. You can get things out. But I think anger has to have a cause otherwise it’s just violence. That’s a very different thing."
It genuinely is.
"Yes. I’ll tell you a story that’s not in the book. When I was 11 years old there was this girl who lived next door and she’d come over the fence into our garden and I was very territorial. I didn’t like her and she didn’t like me. She was much taller, much lighter skinned and much snootier. One day she was hanging out in our garden and I said, ‘Get out of our garden!’ She refused and she got her shoe and hit me over the head – a whack right in the middle of my head. The next thing I remember is kicking her so hard that she went flying back over the fence into her garden! What I realised was that I’d blacked out completely because I was so angry. That terrified me because I’d lost control and when you do that, you can do anything.
"She went and got her mum, who called mine and we all went out to talk about it and when I looked at [the girl] I’d literally beaten the shit out of her. I was terrified. I went back inside and my mum gave me a beating but it didn’t hurt because I was so terrified of what I’d done. It did teach me a lesson: you can get angry but don’t black out or lose control. Since then – and this is a giant secret that I’m about to tell you – I have never lost my temper in the same way since.
"But, for me, anger has been a very, very useful tool. There are times with the boys [in the band] where I pretend to get angry just to get things done. I’ll look at Leigh [Johnson, Skunk manager] and wink, and then pretend to get angry. I’m very good at it! It’s a useful tool when people start fucking about! Anger has been very important in how I am as an artist and how I get things across in some of the songs, but it’s controlled."