Born on December 28, 1961, on the Isle of Man, United Kingdom. Addresses: Record company--Topic Records Ltd., 50 Stroud Green Rd., London N4 3ES, England, website: http://www.topicrecords.co.uk. Management--Robert Miller Music Management, 78 Marylebone High St., Suite 237, London W1U 5AP, England.
Singer Christine Collister first gained notice as a sidewoman, and has performed as a solo artist since 1992. Her recording credits include releases by Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Long Ryders, the Oyster Band, and a long stint as songwriter Clive Gregson's vocal foil in the duo Gregson & Collister.
Short of stature but large of voice, the five-foot-three-inch-tall Collister has a deep and dusky singing instrument that recalls her countrywomen Alison Moyet, Kirsty MacColl, Christine McVie, and Dusty Springfield. While she can belt with the best, Collister's greatest vocal attribute is the ease with which she sings. Her best work sounds effortless, conveying ample emotion without strain. In that, she resembles another highly unlikely influence: "Growing up, I really liked Karen Carpenter," Collister said in an interview with Contemporary Musicians. "Not least because I could sing along with her. Female voices are often too high for me to follow, but not hers."
Collister was born on December 28, 1961, into a musical family, the second of four children, and grew up on the Isle of Man. Although she claims her older sister actually had a "sweeter" voice than hers, her sister did not pursue a career in music. Collister, on the other hand, was determined to succeed. In fact, she claims to have decided on singing as a vocation at the remarkably precocious age of six. "It was not because I'd seen somebody in particular," she continued. "Just a very strong feeling that I was going to be a singer. It started with one of the first things in school that year. They asked us what we thought we'd be when we were all grown up. I did this fantastic drawing of a ... woman with her mouth open wide, tonsils showing. [And I said,] 'I'm going to be a singer.'"
Collister sang in the church choir and at holiday camps, then began playing folk clubs--even though she wasn't a folksinger--because there was no place else for a solo woman with an acoustic guitar to perform. One such show was in Manchester in late 1984. Clive Gregson, veteran leader of the pub-rock band Any Trouble, which disbanded that year, happened to catch Collister's act and was instantly smitten with her voice. "I thought she was amazing," Gregson told Steve Hochman of the Los Angeles Times. "So afterwards I bothered her. The immortal line was, 'I think I could do something for you.'"
Thus began a musical and romantic partnership that would last seven years. Collister sang on Gregson's 1985 solo album Strange Persuasions, afterward she assumed equal billing in the duo Gregson & Collister. The two recorded five critically praised albums together. At the same time, Collister also began her association with the Richard Thompson band, playing backup and doubling as Thompson's singing partner--a role formerly filled by his ex-wife and former Fairport Convention bandmate, Linda Thompson. The two sounded nothing alike, however, diffusing the inevitable comparisons. Collister appeared on all Thompson's albums from 1985's Across a Crowded Room through 1996's Mirror Blue.
One Richard-and-Linda comparison that stuck, however, was Collister's relationship with Gregson--a he-plays-she-sings couple in which the male played guitar and wrote lacerating songs about romantic troubles for his female significant other to sing. Onstage, Gregson & Collister could be extremely droll, with lots of self-deprecating humor and unlikely covers (a deadpan version of Michael Jackson's "She's Out of My Life" was but one example). On record, however, many of Gregson's songs were angry and bitter.
Both downplayed the art-imitates-life angle at the time, claiming that the songs were fictional creations that did not reflect their real life as a couple. But the truth is that their time together was often just as stormy as their music suggested, before they finally split up in 1992. Highlights from the Gregson & Collister catalog include their frisky acoustic-pop studio debut Mischief, and the 1989 full-band effort A Change in the Weather. They bowed out with a classy relationship postmortem, The Last Word, a sad and deeply moving record.
"I don't do those songs at all now because they were so incredibly personal, and it went horribly wrong," Collister told Contemporary Musicians. "If you talked to Clive now, you'd not even know that we lived together. But we did, and it was baaaaaaaaaad. It became really difficult. I've been thinking I may add in some of the covers we used to do, as a nod to the past. As for Clive's songs, they still get sung because Clive gets out and works. But I don't feel comfortable singing them anymore, which is a shame. That's a part of who I am today, although my own career has gone on for far longer than the career I had with Clive. But we have to live with these things. People have a real love for that period, so you can't dismiss it."
After the split, Collister embarked on a solo career, releasing a 1994 live album. For the first few years, her work was primarily interpretive, displaying the discerning taste in covers she's always shown. Gregson & Collister's charmingly casual 1990 all-covers album Love Is a Strange Hotel, for example, included 10cc's "The Things We Do for Love," Joni Mitchell's "Same Situation" and Aztec Camera's "How Men Are." Elvis Costello, Bruce Cockburn, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, Billie Holiday, U2, and Henry Mancini are among the other artists whose songs Collister has covered on her own since then. "I just sing songs I love," she added. "Anything I've ever had a go at, it's because I've felt some kind of real connection to it. What I like to do is take a song and turn it on its head. Not to say it's high art or cutting edge, but I try to find myself in the song."
Collister's later solo albums, however, contained more and more of her own writing. Into the Light, released in 2002, featured her highest concentration of originals to date--she cowrote half of its 12 songs, augmented by the usual assortment of well-chosen covers (Paul Simon, U2, and old favorite Aztec Camera among them). "It's confidence, and trying to stretch myself a little," Collister said of her recent emphasis on songwriting. "Also being around more people who write, there are lots and lots of great songwriters over here. So I'll think, 'If they can do it, so can I'--or they'll tell me, 'If we can do it, so can you.' I've always had an urge to write, but I'm driven to sing. Some people are driven to write, and sing because of that. I'm the opposite. I'm driven to sing, and so I write a bit as well."
by David Menconi
Christine Collister's Career
Sang "Warm Love Gone Cold," theme song to the 1986 BBC television series The Life and Loves of a She Devil (nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts [BAFTA] Award); featured performer with the Richard Thompson Band; began seven-year partnership with Clive Gregson, 1984; released Home and Away,1985; Mischief, 1987; A Change in the Weather, 1989; Love Is a Strange Hotel, 1990; The Last Word, 1992; began solo career in 1992, released Christine Collister Live, 1994; Blue Aconite, 1996; Horizon, 1997; Dark Gift of Time, 1998; Songbird, 1999; An Equal Love, 2001; Into the Light, 2002.
- Selected discography
- Live , Fledgling Fled (U.K.), 1994/Green Linnet (U.S.), 1995.
- Horizon , Fledgling Fled (U.K.), 1997.
- Blue Aconite , Fledgling Fled (U.K.), 1996/Koch (U.S.), 1998.
- Dark Gift of Time , Fledgling Fled (U.K.)/Koch (U.S.), 1998.
- Songbird , Fledgling Fled (U.K.), 1999.
- An Equal Love , Topic (U.K.), 2001.
- Into the Light , Topic (U.K.), 2002.
- With Gregson & Collister
- Home and Away , Eleventh Hour (U.K.), 1985/Flying Fish (U.S.), 1986.
- Mischief , Special Delivery (U.K.), 1987/Rhino (U.S.), 1988.
- A Change in the Weather , Special Delivery (U.K.)/Rhino (U.S.), 1989.
- Love Is A Strange Hotel , Special Delivery (U.K.)/Rhino (U.S.), 1990.
- The Last Word , Special Delivery (U.K.)/Rhino (U.S.), 1992.
- Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, April 10, 1992.
- Glasgow Herald(Scotland), May 24, 2001.
- Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1988; April 4, 1991.
- Musician, May 1989.
- Westword, October 19-25, 1988.
- "Christine Collister: Biography," The Bee's Knees: A Music Information Archive, http://www.thebeesknees.com/bk-cc-bi.html (March 1, 2003).
- Additional information was taken from an interview with Christine Collister on February 7, 2003, and was provided by Rhino Records publicity materials, 1988-92.