m people | biography
Mike Pickering and Paul Heard began writing together in the early '90s. Mike's initial idea was to create a loose collective of musicians and use a variety of different singers. One of these singers was Heather Small who they had heard fronting the band Hot!House.
“We weren't going anywhere (Hot!House) and I was originally asked to do two songs. The first time I met Mike I thought he had a real sense of fun. He was witty and charming so I jumped at the chance of working with him. I'm not very extrovert and he and Paul made me feel very safe and comfortable.”
Heather fitted so perfectly that it became immediately apparent that she had to become a permanent member of one of ‘Mike’s People’.
“I saw Hot!House support Barry White at the Royal Albert Hall and Heather just looked at the floor all the time but I was like, what a fantastic voice. I wanted to work with her, but she was a much rougher diamond then. She said she had only ever sung ballads before. She’d never done an up-tempo number and it gave a totally different texture to her voice. I wrote Colour My Life and How Can I Love you More? specifically for her."
1991 saw the release of M People’s debut single Colour My Life and album Northern Soul. The second single, How Can I Love You More?, gave the band their first UK chart hit and a debut performance on Top Of The Pops. After this success, Colour My Life was re-released and entered the UK chart in March 1992, shortly followed by a cover of Marshall Jefferson’s Someday.
On 25th April 1992 M People played at the Brixton Academy. During the soundcheck M People's percussionist was delayed so Shovell (Andrew Lovell) from Natural Life stood in.
“One of the last gigs with Natural Life was at the Brixton Academy. It was Jamiroquai’s second ever gig, Brand New Heavies, M People were the penultimate band and then Natural Life. So when M People were trying to soundcheck, we were the next band on to soundcheck, my percussion was all set up. One of their guys came over and said ‘Look, our percussionist has broken down on the motorway, you've got all your gear set up; do you mind standing in for the soundcheck?’. So, being South East London, I says ‘Tell you what I’ll do for you son, if the geezer don’t turn up, give us fifty quid and I’ll do the lot for you’. Well, I sent two of the lads out front, told them if he does turn up tell him the gig’s been moved to Earl’s Court. But the guy does turn up, we swap numbers and about three months later they phone and say “M People’s got this gig in Middlesbrough; do you want to do it?” There was myself, Mike, Paul, Heather and a DAT machine, and we went on at three in the morning did a proper PA, Heather was live, I was live, and it went off. And then Natural Life folded and M People really started and I jumped at the right time!”
Excited entered the UK charts in October 1992 and featured on the repackaged Northern Soul album. This version featured Heather on the cover and a new track list, including a remix of How Can I Love You More? by Manchester DJ, Sasha. The remix provided the band with their first UK top ten hit, entering the chart in February 1993. The success of the single saw the album chart a week later for the very first time.
M People's top ten success continued with the singles One Night In Heaven, Moving On Up, Don't Look Any Further and Renaissance, all taken from the band's second album Elegant Slumming. The album spent over 85 weeks on the UK album charts! A sell out UK tour accompanied the album's release, along with the VHS Elegant TV.
Elegant Slumming earned the band their first Brit Award: Best British Dance Act in 1994 and fuelled a second outing of their UK tour. They performed on the NME Stage at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival and in the early autumn released a limited edition EP, Elegantly American, featuring U.S. remixes. The success of Elegant Slumming continued on 13th September 1994 when M People won the Mercury Music Prize, along with the £20,000 prize money.
November 1994 saw the release of the single Sight For Sore Eyes and the band's third album Bizarre Fruit, both peaking inside the top ten of the UK charts. Open Your Heart, another top ten single, was released in early 1995 and just under a month later M People won the Best British Dance Act Brit Award for the second year running! This time the band performed live at the awards ceremony, duetting with Sting and a 100-strong Gospel Choir. Together they performed If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free).
After releasing their eighth consecutive UK top ten single Search For The Hero and performing at T In The Park, M People continued to tour the world with their Come Again Tour. Towards the end of 1995 a remixed version of Love Rendezvous and also the VHS Come Again were released. These were followed by a repackaged, two disc version of their album, which had yet to leave the UK album chart since it's release a year earlier. Bizarre Fruit II included different versions of some tracks, live performances, remixes and the band's next single Itchycoo Park. The album was to remain in the UK charts until April 1997!
The band's live performances continued in 1996 with the The M Parties at Crystal Palace and Alton Towers. On the 29th June they performed live at Old Trafford for The Euro '96 Extravaganza.
1996 also saw the closure of their record label deConstruction which led to the group forming their own M People Records.
In the autumn of 1997, M People returned with the single Just For You and the album Fresco, both reaching within the top ten of the UK charts. Fantasy Island followed and the band ended the year touring the UK. The third and final single from Fresco was released in March 1998, Angel St, gaining the band their tenth top ten single in the UK.
Testify was released in October 1998 and was one of three new tracks which featured on The Best Of M People, a greatest hits album. A limited edition two disc version was also released containing live tracks from a Jools Holland M People Special which had been recorded earlier in the year. The TV special was later released on VHS and DVD under the title One Night In Heaven.
Another UK tour accompanied the album and in February 1999 the final M People single was released, Dreaming.
The band were honoured with Manchester's Freedom Of The City in 1999 and ended the year with concerts to celebrate the millennium.
After pursuing solo interests, Heather's song Proud was used as the soundtrack to the successful London 2012 Olympic Bid in 2005. The Ultimate Collection was subsequently released featuring sixteen M People songs and two of Heather's solo singles, Proud and Holding On. A limited edition Ultimate Collection: The Remixes was also released. The band took to the road again (minus Mike) and played seven venues in the UK for the Another Night In Heaven Tour.
Northern Soul, Elegant Slumming and Bizarre Fruit were re-released in 2005 in a repackaged form with bonus tracks, exclusive sleeve notes, rare artwork and photos. Various M People compilation albums and re-issues of their original albums have also been released since 2005, including One Night In Heaven: The Best Of M People, One Night In Heaven: The Very Best Of M People and The Collection.
Since 2005, Heather, Paul and Shovell have continued to perform as M People. Mike, who no longer tours with M People, happily gives his blessings for the band to continue performing live.
2007 saw the band playing a number of live dates, including four concerts as part of the Forestry Commission's 2007 Tour, as well as the Hampton Court Festival and the Real Ale Jazz Festival, Chichester. The band also performed in Poland and the following year in Denmark. M People continued to play occasionally in 2008, including the Southport Festival.
Their next outing wasn't until 2012 where the band performed at Kew The Music in Kew Gardens and also at the Sandance event in Dubai.
In April 2013, M People announced that they would tour at the end of the year to celebrate twenty years of the album Elegant Slumming. The group appeared on numerous TV and radio shows to promote the 20th Anniversary Greatest Hits Tour 2013. The tour commenced in Dublin and then continued at fourteen venues across the UK.
M People continue to perform together at various live events, including the V Festival in 2014 and the forthcoming Reload Festival in 2015.