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Digital Subscriptions > Classic Pop > July 2019 > BOO’S THAT LADY

BOO’S THAT LADY

WITH HER EMMA PEEL-REFERENCING FELINE PERSONA, BETTY BOO SPEARHEADED U.K. HIP-HOP’S OVERGROUND ASSAULT ON THE CHARTS IN THE EARLY-90S. SHE MEETS STEVE O’BRIEN TO TALK ABOUT HER BEGINNINGS WITH U.S. RAP ROYALTY, BEING TAKEN UNDER MADONNA’S WING AND THE REAL REASONS WHY SHE JUMPED OFF THE POP MERRY-GO-ROUND.

Like all great fairy tales, this one begins in a McDonald’s. Fire up YouTube and tap in “Betty Boo” and “freestyle” and you’ll find a fuzzy camcorder-taped clip of a 17-year-old Alison Clarkson belting out an impromptu rap in front of Public Enemy’s Professor Griff in a McDonald’s joint in Hammersmith.

“It was the night of that big Def Jam tour, with the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Run DMC,” reflects Alison Clarkson, aka Betty Boo, 32 years on from that serendipitous hook-up. “We were just coming back from the Apollo, and fancied a McDonald’s and we saw Griff and the S1Ws buying a fillet of fish, so we just said, ‘We’re rappers, we just went to your gig!’”

Griff and the S1Ws (the band’s paramilitary-clad security force) happened to have a documentary team in tow and recorded Clarkson and her two schoolmates, known en masse as the She Rockers, freestyling. The clip climaxes with the group being ushered out onto the night-time street by a befuddled looking McDonald’s employee.

“I didn’t even plan to be on telly,” she grimaces, “cos I had my granny’s cardigan on.”

From that chance meeting came a Griff-produced She Rockers single (Give It A Rest) and a pinch-yourself opportunity to tour America supporting Public Enemy. It came at a bad time, though. Clarkson’s father had recently died and, in her words, she “went a bit wild”, dropping her A-Levels and jetting off to the US without even telling her mum. She remembers being driven from Long Island to Manhattan by a clearly “off his face” Flavor Flav. “When you’re 17, you’re just fearless,” she shrugs. “I just thought, I’m having the best time!”

SUGAR AND SASS

It’s hard to reconcile that spunky, fearless teen from the McDonald’s video with the gently-spoken and selfeffacing 49-year-old sitting opposite Classic Pop in the swanky environs of Bath’s Gainsborough Hotel. It was in 1989 that Betty Boo first blasted her way onto the UK hip-hop scene, on the Beatmasters pumper Hey DJ / I Can’t Dance To That Music You’re Playing. Before long, she was flying solo with a string of feisty, 60s-flavoured pop-rap classics such as Doin’ The Do and Where Are You Baby? Her unique brand of sugar and sass left such a cultural footprint that when Chris Herbert was putting together a new, all-female pop group called the Spice Girls in the mid-90s, he simply asked for “five Betty Boos”.

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About Classic Pop

This month, we have the definitive interview with the returning Shakespears Sister – back after a split that lasted more than 25 years. We also meet Lloyd Cole to talk about his stunning electronic-flavoured new album Guesswork and catch up with the iconic Betty Boo who looks back on her career as a UK hip-hop trailblazer. Our Classic Album this issue is Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ambitious debut Welcome To The Pleasuredome and we take a deep dive into the studio work of Belinda Carlisle for our Album by Album feature. We talk to Steve Barron, the director who shaped the 80s pop video landscape, and also hear from China Crisis’ Gary Daly as he unveils his first-ever solo album. Read our verdict on Madonna’s Madame X alongside new live LPs from Soft Cell and New Order plus much more in our new albums pages. Our packed reissues and compilation section features Kylie Minogue, Janet Jackson, Joy Division, Shakespears Sister and more. On the live reviews front, we check out shows including Take That, Howard Jones, Marc Almond and the Manic Street Preachers. Enjoy the issue!