In this regular Sunday feature, we ask people about 10 things that changed their life. This week, Shirley Manson, singer and actor. 

1. Watching my mother sing

The National: Shirley Manson's motherShirley Manson's mother

WHEN I was about five years old, I went to watch my mother perform as part of an evening concert performance at St Bernard’s Davidson Church at Stockbridge in Edinburgh, where I grew up.

The curtains opened – I can remember they were a deep blue velvet – and my mother was standing there in a white and cornflower blue-patterned dress. She began to sing On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever).

As I watched my mother singing, I was completely transported into another realm. In that moment, as young as I was, I got the transformative power of music as performance.

That was a truly profound experience for me, and I can see it in my head as if it was yesterday – it’s actually not too far off 50 years ago now. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the experience set me on course for my career.

I had a great relationship with my mother – I’m sure it is for many people, but it really was one of the most significant relationships of my life.

Having that experience so clearly embedded in my head is a gorgeous connection to have. It’s such a lovely memory that has endured and sustained me at times in my life when I was maybe struggling.

2. My father’s book club

MY father used to run a little “book club” in our dining room at home. He would lay out a selection of books all around the room, then he would ask me and my two sisters to come in and choose the book we wanted.

I have this vivid picture in my head of walking around the dining room table and looking at all these books. I remember choosing Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. That cemented a lifelong obsession with reading and storytelling, with books and writers in general, really. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to my father for that. He cemented that love of books in my sisters as well, so we’ve all been able to lose ourselves in books all our lives. It also lead to my love of language and fascination with words.

It was such a beautiful way to do it as well – instead of giving us the books, letting us choose our own. I’ve always connected that to a magical feeling with books.

I became obsessed with AA Milne and my first poetry book was When We Were Very Young. I would recite it and my father recorded it on his old cassette machine. It’s a beautiful enduring memory and has created a habit that’s turned out to be very hard to break.

3. An introduction to the arts

AT a young age, again thanks to my parents, I joined the choir, played in school orchestra, went to ballet class and joined Edinburgh Youth Theatre.

Having access to all of these changed my outlook on what was possible. These were all at amateur level, by the way ... I wasn't particularly good at any of them.

Collectively, though, it gave me a great grounding for what was to come. It taught me about the transformative power of the arts, but also a lot about the joy of working with other people.

It also taught me about relying on other people, which really helped me when I joined the band.

You really do have to learn to play nice with the other children. You'll never have a career in a band unless you learn that.

4. Goodbye Mr Mackenzie

The National: Goodbye Mr MackenzieGoodbye Mr Mackenzie

OBVIOUSLY being a part of Goodbye Mr Mackenzie was monumental for me, but I happened to join a band that was so interesting in the way it approached the world. Martin Metcalfe, and all the members actually, were really irreverent and rebellious, but they had a lot of moral courage and moral conviction.

That taught me so much about how to hold myself together when I was under a lot of duress. With a level of success there comes a lot of attention. That might have been harder to handle without the lessons learned from everyone in the band.

Also, travel was something introduced into my life by being in my band. The members of Goodbye Mr Mackenzie were the first people I had actually travelled with and it became this enormous adventure. I learned so much and continue to learn so much from travel.

Seeing other philosophies, different ways of thinking and other ways of life, has been the greatest privilege of my entire life.

I still refer back to lessons that I learned with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie today. Also, it was a proper band. It functioned as a complete unit and that’s something that a lot of young bands don’t seem to understand. If you don’t function as a unit, you’re f*****.

5. Gary Kurfirst

GARY careered into my life when Goodbye Mr Mackenzie were opening for Debbie Harry on her Debravation tour in the late 1980s. He managed bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie (both pictured below), and said to me: “I think you’ve got something, if you ever want to make a record let me know.” I was just like, yeah, yeah, whatever. I was happy in the band so didn’t think twice about it, but a few years later, for many reasons, we were in trouble, financially and professionally. We planned to start a band called Angelfish, where I would take over lead vocals but we would somehow survive together as a band.

I called Gary. He immediately put together a recording schedule and invited us over to Connecticut to work with Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz from Talking Heads. From that moment on Gary became my biggest cheerleader. When I got the call to join Garbage, he was the one that encouraged me to jump at the opportunity. And up until his death in 2009 he was still the one that I could always call for advice and encouragement. Aside from my family and friends, he was the one constant who always believed in me. I still miss him to this day and love him dearly. I wouldn’t have a career without him.

6. Outside the system

The National:

WHEN I moved to America to work with Garbage, I was unwell and having trouble breathing, so the band took me to emergency care.

The doctor told me my blood pressure was dangerously high and I was at risk of having a heart attack or stroke at any moment. However, as I didn’t have insurance I had to go and find a doctor who could refer me back. I was in desperate need of health care but was turned away.

It gave me an insight into what it means to be an immigrant whose health isn’t considered important enough; to be looked at as a piece of flotsam that could be discarded because I didn’t have money.

I was lucky to be in a band with people who could get me a doctor, but I would say it was the start of me being socially and politically engaged.

7. The lessons of failure

GARBAGE had been the zeitgeist band for 10 years and couldn’t do anything wrong. Then almost overnight it stopped. We couldn’t get arrested. Then we were dropped by the record company and found ourselves in a hole that we felt we couldn’t get out of.

As soon as I started to become successful, I had started to worry about losing that success. What am I going to do when I’m no longer selling records? Then all of a sudden, boom, I was there.

It was an incredible moment of learning about myself, what I was capable of and what I was willing – and not willing – to do.

I realised where my moral compass lay and how much grit I had. We all fear failure and yet it can be the moment when we become the finest version of ourselves.

8. My dog

WE rescued her and had to take her to a dog-training class. The trainer said: “There’s no such thing as an aggressive dog, only a scared dog.”

I realised that she could have been easily talking about me. I realised I could identify with that expression and that I could identify with my dog. I was always aggressive, and I still can be, but there was clearly more to my behaviour than that. I started to really learn about myself through this animal.

I was never particularly invested in nature or exercise, but she’s started to get me out into the hills around Los Angeles. I got fitter, my blood pressure finally stabilised, allowing me to get off medication.

I have suffered from depression my whole life, so having a dog has helped that in many, many ways.

9. A lesson in feminism

I’VE always considered myself a feminist. When I was invited to be part of a panel at an intersectional feminist event a couple of years ago by the agitator and provocateur Whitney Bell, I was happy to do it.

Also on the panel were two black activists, Ericka Hart, an incredible intellectual and sex educator, and Ashlee Marie Preston, a trans woman and an unbelievably articulate activist.

That day I was thoroughly educated about what it means to be a true feminist. I had no idea how the feminist movement had basically shat on black women, indigenous women, transwomen.

I realised it was down to me to help other women educate themselves and really understand what intersectional feminism really means. It completely changed my view of feminism and how I must act and fight for all people, but, as a feminist, for all women.

10. Acting

I WAS asked to play a terminator in the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series. As a result, my agent encouraged me to study with an acting teacher called Sharon Chatten.

Sharon took me, broke me and rebuilt me, and taught me what it really means to be an artist. She has influenced how I approach my work ever since and has unlocked a certain kind of creativity that I never thought I was able to achieve.

I genuinely believe I wouldn’t be here as a 52-year-old woman in rock music, which is incredibly rare, and enjoying what I do, without having been taught by this incredible teacher. The realisation that what you do is nothing to do with commerce. The realisation that money is not the be-all-and-end-all, and we should look at what makes us genuinely happy.

Garbage play the Dunfermline Alhambra on Wednesday, July 17