Interviews

Retirement? It's just hearsay, says ALEXANDER O'NEAL, on the eve of his British 'Resurrected' tour

Saturday, 31 March 2018 13:23 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                altWhile a small percentage of the British public (those, no doubt, unfamiliar with R&B music)  will undoubtedly recognise Alexander O'Neal from his appearances on primetime UK TV shows like Weakest Link, Celebrity Wife Swap and Big Brother, the majority will know him for what he does best: singing. Boasting a powerful yet expressive voice  - imagine the silkiness of Nat 'King' Cole crossed with  Otis Redding's soulful rasp - Alex was conquering the charts around the world thirty years ago with big hits that ranged from smooth ballads like  'If You Were Here Tonight' to tough dance floor smashes such as 'Fake' and 'Criticise.' 

Now in his 65th year, the man originally from Natchez, Mississippi, is still going strong. The hits may have dried up but his enthusiasm and commitment to making music hasn't left him. Though, given his age,  he's now eligible for retirement,  Alex isn't contemplating a sedentary life defined by a pipe, slippers, and a stair-lift just yet. "I'm just trying to keep busy," he tells me, "because I'm still enjoying doing my thing and still getting a buzz out of it."

Following in the wake of his recent 'Hearsay 30' album released at the end of last year, the softly-spoken singer is due to undertake an eight date tour of the UK, beginning on the 6th of April in Glasgow and culminating with a show on 25th of that month at London's prestigious Palladium venue. O'Neal, as many American performers have discovered over the years visiting the UK, that British fans offer unwavering support and fealty.  "I think they're more loyal and they love their R&B music. In America, you're only as big as your last hit record and they treat you that way. So it doesn't matter if you're a legend or if you had a bunch of hit records, they forget, but over here, on this side of the water, it seems they remember you. They grew up with you and get older with you and they still come out and buy your music and come to the shows. I've been coming over there 30 years and what I love about my fans over here so much is that they've endeared me into their hearts and lives over the years, so there's a lot of memories, and it's just great to be seeing them."

In fact, Alexander O'Neal is so smitten with the UK that he's decidedly to live here - in Manchester. "My new management and production team is up here in Manchester now and I also use a great band out of Manchester called Mamma Freedom. It's a lot like Minneapolis/St Paul in Minnesota in the States. The pace is about the same and the weather is kind of the same. I'm living in Manchester these days and it's really nice."

Last Updated on Saturday, 31 March 2018 13:57

 

WE ALL NEED A HERO... the GIZELLE SMITH interview

Monday, 26 March 2018 15:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSince the start of the year an insidious little tune called 'Hero' has been all over the place.... club plays and radio rotation has caused a buzz about the artist, GIZELLE SMITH. Seasoned sleeve note readers will recognize Ms Smith's name from her time with the Mighty Mocambos. Now, though, she's well and truly out there on her own and with an album. 'Ruthless Day' set to drop at the end of this month, we thought the time was right to find out more about Gizelle..... First some background....

Well, my name is Gizelle Smith and after studying forensic science, hairdressing and god knows some other iffy career options, I decided to do an MA in composing for film. I'm originally from Manchester but moved to London where I landed a job as co-composer and vocal coach for a youth theatre company based in Camden, in-between touring with The Mighty Mocambos. I always wanted to be a performer but my mother did that ill-informed thing and insisted I had a 'fall-back option', hence the above initial career choices. I was super confused growing up because nothing I chose to do felt right and there was always this nagging at the back of my mind that I should be doing music but I was very shy and it wasn't till I met the right people who pointed me in the right direction, did I make that step towards my true path.

I believe your father was in the music biz – tell us about that and did he influence you in any way.... indeed did he encourage you or even discourage you!

My father Joe Smith was a guitarist for the Four Tops after they moved from Motown Records to ABC. He has always been a big part of my life spiritually. I didn't grow up with him unfortunately but I've had a very strong connection with him since I was a baby and being around him at a very young age has been enough influence to cause me to pursue a career in music. Or then again, has it? I guess it's a play on the whole nature/nurture debate. Maybe I'd always have gone into music regardless of who he was... who knows! He was always wary of the idea of his children getting into the industry but it turns out, I'm the only who did and he's super pleased and proud. I need to call him actually.

Tell us about your early days in the business.... and your time with the Mocambos.

Hooking up with the Mighty Mocambos was my first step into the business as an artist. I was performing before that, on a low key level, with a couple of residencies in restaurants, singing with a pop choir and playing trumpet and singing in a jazz big band. I met my producer Steffen 'Def Stef' Wagner on my course at University and he introduced me to his brother Bjoern who owns Mocambo Records and runs The Mighty Mocambos. I lived with him in Hamburg for a few months whilst I finished my dissertation and we both toured with Indra Afia – a German soul artist, where Bjoern on guitar and I was on bv duty. Soon after, I was gigging with the Mocambos, playing mostly covers and we were approached by a booker who suggested we put an album together. So we did, with no expectations whatsoever and it seemed to hit the spot in the funk scene. Our first single 'Working Woman' was picked up by Kenny Dope and we spent a couple of years touring UK, France and Germany.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 18:38

 

INSIDE LOVE: The LINDSEY WEBSTER INTERVIEW....

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 19:19 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altUS singer LINDSEY WEBSTER made her name with her 2015 'You Change' album – a classy amalgam of smooth soul and jazz lite that resonated with lovers of the intimate singer/songwriter format. Ms W's 2016 long player 'Back To Your Heart' grew her fan base and won a slew of awards – including being named Billboard contemporary jazz artist of the year for two successive years – 2016 and 2017. Lindsey's latest album, 'Love Inside' has just won release and like her previous efforts it's enjoying critical acclaim, radio play and commercial success. We last spoke to Lindsey last year on the back of 'Back To Your Heart' and with the new set really taking off we spoke again and began by asking what the last couple of years have meant for her......

Since 2016 a lot has happened: we stayed busy after 'Back To Your Heart' came out, playing lots of shows and festivals all over. We travelled all around the U.S., performed in London a few times, also in Holland, Belgium & Germany. While in London, we shot some live video with music streaming service SoulandJazz.com and, most importantly, throughout all of this, we started writing the material for 'Love Inside'!

Yes, tell us about your visit to the UK..... was it your first, how did you find the audiences, were you surprised that they were aware of your work?

We have actually been to the UK 7 times now, and are scheduled to leave for our 8th visit next week! The first time I visited London was in August of 2015, when we were over the pond to record our first session of videos with SoulandJazz.com . While we were there, we played at a high-end restaurant called Le Caprice for an event sponsored Sennheiser (head phones)and Martell Cognac. That was our first official UK appearance! We have now played at multiple Pizza Express locations, Cadogan Hall, and Ronnie Scott's, and the crowds are always warm and welcoming for us. I truly enjoy visiting and getting to play our music there and can't wait to come back!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2018 20:22

 

I, ROBOT: THE MF ROBOTS INTERVIEW....

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 22:14 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSince last January the soul world has been treated to a series of classy singles (and their remixes) from a new band, MF ROBOTS. "New", however, isn't really the appropriate adjective. You see the duo that comprise MF Robots are seasoned soul veterans. In the blue corner we have JAN KINCAID. Soul collectors will know that Mr K was a founding member of the Brand New Heavies and was with the band for something like 25 years! In the red corner we have DAWN JOSEPH – session singer extraordinaire (credits include Phil Collins, Michael McDonald and Cee Lo Green amongst others), solo performer and from 2012 lead singer with the Heavies. In 2015, Jan and Dawn jumped ship and decided to go it on their own and now, almost three years down the line, they're all set to release that all important debut album. So what better time to dig a little deeper and find out more about Jan and Dawn's robotics? Meeting up, we began by asking how that big break decision came about.....

DAWN: Obviously working so closely with Jan for 3 years, we discovered we had a mutual passion for music and knew that we wanted to develop a new project outside the band but it was all about timing. It was a natural progression. The time was definitely right to move on.

JAN: Yes, I was increasingly feeling a bit restricted by the Heavies formula musically and the way the band was being run and was ready for a change. Working with Dawn was a breath of fresh air but the stuff we starting writing together even within the Heavies time was sounding like it needed a new platform and didn't really fit in that imprint...so we created a new one.

OK.... now what everyone wants to know.... why that name? Do you prefer MF ROBOTS or MUSIC FOR ROBOTS? We've heard both being used....

JAN: Either is fine with us. The name is a tongue in cheek dig at the state of the music business and its current tendency towards Generic sounding music and safe song writing style ...there's a lot of style over substance and a lot of mediocrity and little in the way of anything sounding edgy or trying to sound a little different...we plan our music to be anything but generic.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 March 2018 22:37

 

PAINTING PICTURES; THE ROBIN MCKELLE INTERVIEW

Wednesday, 07 March 2018 20:23 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in 2013 Rochester, NY-born singer ROBIN MCKELLE took the soul world by surprise with her still-lovely 'Soul Flower' album. Amongst the long player's 12 tracks was the mighty 'Fairytale Ending' and the heart- rending duet with a still relatively unknown Gregory Porter, 'Love's Work'. That album was a marked departure from Robin's previous jazz albums but after 'Soul Flower' she went on to consolidate her position as a real soul contender with the 'Heart Of Memphis' and 'Looking Glass' collections. Next month Ms McKelle releases a brand new set – 'Melodic Canvas' - and previews reveal another subtle shift in musical direction so we needed to know where that direction was leading. Catching up with Robin we first asked what she's been doing since the 2016 release of 'Looking Glass'......

Well, I took some time off from touring and really focused on writing and working on a new album ... that , of course, became 'Melodic Canvas'. I also had the opportunity to perform with a few other groups in some interesting projects. After performing the European leg of the Jazz 100 tour with pianist, Danilo Perez, I was inspired to reconnect with jazz. I didn't limit myself in the writing or in the creative process though.

So how did you get all organized for the new project? I mean sorting/writing the songs, finding the musicians and producer and hiring a studio.... A big job!

After 2 years since my last release, I knew it was definitely time to get back into the studio. I think it's most important, though, to take the process step by step. I didn't get overwhelmed about trying to do it all at once. I wrote the songs, and then I stepped away from them for a while to think about how I wanted the album to sound. Once I decided on the instrumentation to have more of an acoustic approach, I worked on the arrangements. I produced the record myself so I didn't have to look far for that! Finding the right musicians was really just a matter of knowing what kind of sound and style I was going for. I just looked for musicians who had a soulful approach to jazz.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 March 2018 20:38

 

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