Review of Heather Small's 2009 solo tour from the Croydon venue. Review taken from the 'Wimbledon Guardian':
Small Makes A Huge Impact - By Nathan Woolford
Heather Small, one of the quintessential voices of the mid-1990s, proved she hasn't lost one bit of her fearsome vocal range with a commanding, crowd-pleasing performance at Fairfield Hall on Tuesday.
Belting out an intriguing blend of recogniseable hits from her days with chart-busters M-People together with a collection of personal favourites from days gone by, Small's charisma and charm shone through on a night which had the Croydon audience dancing in the aisles.
Looking stunning in a jet black cocktail dress, the 44-year-old songstress wore a hyena-like grin throughout her hour-long set, and appeared to be having the time of her life in each and every minute of it.
Backed up by the Snake Davis Band, Small's song selection was unique as she criss-crossed old M-People favourites with a selection of songs that remain close to her heart. As such, Moving On Up, Search for the Hero and One Night in Heaven were mingled with her personalised versions of Abba's Fernando, the Elvis classic Heartbreak Hotel and even the ultra-mellow Elkie Brooks hit Pearl's a Singer.
Indeed, Small paid tribute to Brooks early on in the show, citing her as a major influence and mentor. Midway through her performance, as she reeled off back-to-back jazz numbers, the impact of Brooks could clearly be seen as Small captivated her audience with an eerie, almost haunting singing style - a complete departure from her powerful trademark voice.
The Croydon crowd were also treated to a memorable warm-up act in the form of energetic flautist Lucy Noble, whose enchanting performance, along with a three-piece band, was a brave but beautiful way to open up the show.
Promotional articles for the Norwich venue:
1) Taken from 'EDP24':
Big voice of M People's Heather Small - By Sarah Hardy
Her songs are ones which force you out of your chair and on to the dance floor. They are, quite simply, anthems that always bring a smile to your face and a wriggle to your backside!
As the lead singer of Manchester band M People, Heather, from London, was responsible for Moving On Up, Search for the Hero and One Night In Heaven - all tracks which sound as great today as they did 10 to 15 years ago.
Yet Heather Small, the owner of this voice and, incidentally, a very hearty laugh, isn't your typical monosyllabic pop star who doesn't have much to say for herself. Indeed, once she gets going, it's quite hard to butt in, especially when she's talking about the twin passions in her life - her young son James and music!
She grew up in south London, the daughter of a bus conductor and a waitress, and didn't have any great ambition except to sing and, on becoming a teenager, spent hours in the school library, searching through the likes of Melody Maker for possible auditions.
One ad, she explains, cited Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight as inspiration and this appealed to her as they were her childhood stars, too. Thus she joined the short-lived Hot House band which brought her to the now infamous Hacienda Club in Manchester, where she met Mike Pickering & Paul Heard who then formed M People. Apart from selling 10 million records, picking up two Brit Awards and touring all over the world, Heather made enough cash to become financially secure for the rest of her life.
Looking for yet more highs, she went solo after a few years and again achieved success with two albums, Proud and Close to A Miracle. A relationship with rugby star Shaun Edwards and the birth of James in 2000 saw her career take a backseat, with the odd gig and recording, but Heather burst back on to the public stage last year when she took part in Strictly Come Dancing, the hit BBC series which was aired on Saturdays and Sundays.
Partnering American Brian Fortuna, she got a hard time from the judges but the public loved her. “It was a scream,” she says. “All that big hair, I was over made up, over dressed - it was great,” she giggles. It was the series that included BBC journalist Peter Sergeant and Heather was one of his biggest fans. “He was great fun, all the contestants were, it was a great experience.”
Known as the salsa queen, Heather displayed great athleticism and guts during her time in the show and indeed made it through to week eight, which is no mean feat. “We worked hard, you had to rehearse and rehearse, I am pretty fit but I certainly had to use muscles that I didn't know I had,” she says.
Heather has kept up her dancing skills, saying: “I try to get to a dance studio most weeks, I really do love it.”
Now Heather is embarking on a short spring tour, mixing up new material and old classics. “Yes, I can't just disappear from home for weeks, it's not what I would want. I need to be with James, watch him play rugby, I don't want to miss any of it.”
She adds that her son is also musical, playing both the guitar and piano. “But I don't know what he'll end up doing, he just likes to be with his friends at the moment.”
She thinks that she might one day have a house in the country but feels that she needs to stay in London for her son's school and friends. “It's not an option at the moment but I don't need all the things London has at the moment - I don't go out all the time to clubs, that's for sure!” she laughs.
She has also branched out into acting, appearing in the Vagina Monologues, where a group of actresses relate extraordinary tales about women and their often tragic experiences. “It was a learning experience and you have to be so respectful of the material - they are people's real stories. “If any more acting came along I'd give it a go - I'd really like to be in the No 1 Detective Agency series, it's a real favourite of mine.”
Heather, who is 44, arrives in Norwich for a one-night gig which will see her mix up her back catalogue with newer numbers. “Well, most important of all it should be a fun evening - I'll perform for an hour and a half - and it will chart my journey as a vocalist. I hope it will be uplifting, a bit cheeky, too,” she says.
And she admits that half the fun is getting glammed up! “It is rather nice now and again.
“I love Ben de Lisi dresses, but they can be a bit restrictive for the show so I'm not sure yet what I'll wear!” she says. Heather will also be battling with one of her biggest problems - her nerves.
If you saw her on Strictly, you'll know that she definitely does suffer and it is not something that seems to get better with time.
“I guess that I care as much as ever. I always sing like it is going to be the last show of my life, I give it everything that I have.”
After the tour, Heather has her eye on the summer holidays. “I'm planning a few trips, to the south of France and maybe Mauritius.”
Mmm, one night in heaven, indeed!
Heather Small appears at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, on Wednesday, May 27. Tel 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
2) Taken from 'Norwich Evening News 24':
Interview: Heather Small - By Abigail Saltmarsh
She has performed with Eric Clapton and Tom Jones, starred on Strictly Come Dancing and sold several million records. Now Heather Small who was summoned to perform before Oprah Winfrey is heading for Norwich.
Heather Small didn't know how she was going to do it - but she did know she wanted to sing.
Now one of the UK's biggest and most recognisable voices, she has sold several million records, won two Brit Awards and the Mercury Music Prize and has recorded a track that has become an unofficial national anthem.
“I never really had a big plan,” she says, “I just knew I wanted to sing.”
Born to a bus conductor dad and a waitress mum in Ladbroke Grove in 1965, Heather grew up on a musical diet of everything from calypso to The Clash.
Always a natural dancer, she toyed with the idea of pursuing it and even narrowly missed an audition in front of West End diva Arlene Philips.
“My dance teacher said 'You've got a natural ability to dance, I want you to go along,' but I was too shy!” said Heather.
But eventually set her sights firmly on singing.
So, while most teenagers were spending their free time as far away from school as possible, Heather was busy in the school library digging out copies of Melody Maker and pouring over the Singers Wanted pages.
“My friends used to laugh,” she remembers. “They'd say: 'You're not going to reply to any of those ads,' but I'd just say: 'When I see the right ad, I'll know.'”
Heather finally “knew” when she saw an advert for a group name-checking her childhood heroes Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin.
She was invited for her first ever audition, won the rest of the band over as soon as she opened her mouth, and became the lead singer in Hot House.
And although Hot House only had a short lifespan, her powerful vocals brought her to the attention of Mike Pickering, a DJ at Manchester's legendary Hacienda nightclub.
The pair bonded so well that an initial lunch meeting turned into a lunch, dinner, then on-to-a-nightclub meeting, with Heather then heading over to Mike's studio to listen to the songs he'd written with her in mind.
It was there that she met Paul Heard and M People was born. “I don't know the figures of how many records we sold; I'm not interested,” she says. “What's important to me, when I look back, is did I enjoy it? Did I do the best I could? And I did.”
With hits such as Moving On Up, One Night In Heaven and Search For The Hero and albums like Elegant Slumming, Bizarre Fruit and Fresco achieving massive worldwide success, Heather became one of the seminal British voices of the 1990s.
The band won the Best British Dance Act Award at the Brits in 1994 and 1995, as well as the Mercury Music Prize for Elegant Slumming.
But after taking a break, Heather decided to take a chance and try going down the solo route. “The decision to make a solo album was a creative one, a challenge that gave me the chance to be more involved in the writing process,” she explains. “I wanted to show that I was not just a voice, that there was another side to me.”
One of the first songs to emerge from Heather's new found creative freedom was Proud, co-written with Peter Vetesse. It was to become the lead track from her debut solo album of the same name - and the song that was to catapult her career into a whole new realm.
When Britain won the Olympic bid, Heather was there singing Proud, as she was at the 60th anniversary of VE Day in Trafalgar Square, the launch of Queen Mary II and the celebrations following England's victory at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
And when Oprah Winfrey was looking for a song to sum up the work she'd been striving to achieve over her 25-year career, she got in touch with Heather, who somehow managed to squeeze in a trip across the Atlantic to perform on the show slap bang in the middle of her last UK tour with M People.
“If Oprah calls, you go!” she laughs.
But never one to get complacent, Heather's been busy pushing herself in all sorts of creative directions.
With the Proud album well and truly proving that she could cut the mustard on her own, she embarked on solo tours around the UK, showcasing her own material and a selection of her favourite jazz and soul standards.
One of the highlights of Heather's time as a solo artist has been 2005's Tsunami Relief Concert at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium, where she performed alongside Eric Clapton, the Manic Street Preachers and Charlotte Church, helping to raise 1.25 million.
Throw in a single with the legendary Tom Jones (the duet You Need Love Like I Do, which features on his Reload album), a performance of Set Them Free with Sting at the Brits, an acclaimed gig at Ronnie Scott's, a star turn in the Vagina Monologues on the West End stage, and performances in TV's Strictly Come Dancing - and it all adds up to a busy few years.
So what gives her the impetus to keep challenging herself? “If you got the feeling I do when I sing,” she smiled, “You'd understand.”
Heather Small plays Norwich Theatre Royal on May 27.