Extracts from press interviews about the Heather Small 2016 Tour.
Saturday 12th March 2016
As the queen of uplifting pop anthems, it is hard to imagine anybody doubting the talents of M People songstress Heather Small. But Heather, who will be singing at Christchurch’s Regent Centre on Sunday and Monday, tells Seven Days her glittering years at the top of her profession have by no means always appeared certain.
Brought up in a small flat and born to immigrant parents, things could be tough. She recounts harbouring her singing ambitions in secret until a conversation with a school careers advisor, which for some may have proved a confidence-shattering moment. “She just looked at me and laughed,” Heather reminisces. “But I was quietly determined. I remember thinking to myself ‘I won’t tell anyone – but I will show you’.” And show them she did.
A grafter, Heather took knocks along the way and remembers vividly the moment her first band was dropped from their record label. For her, achieving success meant hitting the road again, picking herself up and playing endless gigs. This is an area of the industry she thinks has changed in recent times with the creation of shows like Pop Idol, The Voice and X Factor. “We had talent shows – but not shows that promised you the world, that would promise you international superstardom after six weeks,” she says. “The ways of getting discovered have changed. A band going on the road and staying in and gaining a following before being signed – that doesn’t happen so much at all. It is very different now. I would say it is harder. But I would say it is maybe easier to make music and get to an audience of some kind. But to make a living, to make it a career, to turn that passion into something that you can do full-time – that is definitely a lot harder.”
This latest tour is a celebration of the last 30 years and fans can expect to be treated to all Heather’s old favourites. “I signed my first deal at 21 and here I am at 51, known as a singer and still, I think, I’m a better singer than I’ve ever been,” she beams. “It’s just joyful, it’s uplifting, you want to advance, to sing – that’s what I want to celebrate. I still have this joy for singing, this joy for performing and I like to get up in front of an audience – even though it’s nervous beforehand. When I’ve got my mic in my hand – I am in the right place – I know this is where I should be. So to share that with other people – that makes me happy.”
There is no doubting Heather’s passion. And she is well aware of how much she has achieved, but that doesn’t stop her from being down-to-earth and still getting a kick out of it – she is more conscious than anyone of how far she has come. “To make that journey, to have that dream and for it then to come to fruition – that still always excites me,” she declares. Whatever you do, if you do it on your own terms – then that’s what puts the cherry on top.”
Saturday 12th March 2016
She had huge hits such as Moving On Up with M People in the 90s, and has sold many millions of albums. But the Londoner has been just as happy to perform jazz at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s, belt out her anthem Proud at the London Olympics, and fly across the Atlantic to perform at the request of talk-show goddess Oprah Winfrey. “I was on holiday in Bali when my manager phoned and told me Oprah wanted me to go over to Chicago,” recalls Heather, who’s on a UK tour at the moment. “I made time for that, definitely! Ronnie Scott’s was absolutely amazing, too. I do different sets depending on the venue, so I did a jazz and blues set there, for three nights, because I love a challenge! I want people to hear the passion and love I have for music, which is also why I’m now on tour, on my own, for the first time in four years.”
Having grown up with jazz in the house, she didn’t have to learn that kind of music from scratch. “When I was younger, my inspirations were Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Armatrading and Luther Vandross, all people who had their own unique and distinct style,” she reveals. “Ella Fitzgerald, now she was just perfection! You say to yourself, well, that woman could sing any note under the sun, she could take any song and make it her own. Ella was a genius. Personally, the best thing that has happened in my career is that I am still singing. To still have people willing to come out and buy tickets, with money tight and times not easy, is fantastic. And I know I’m a better singer, as I have worked on my voice, still do, because it’s about being better. I’m asthmatic, too, so I don’t smoke, don’t drink, I look after myself. That’s not a moral judgment. I like people to have fun, but I just can’t abide the taste of alcohol. I’m vegetarian, too, and as a child, you soon learn to take care if you’re asthmatic.”
Heather was also delighted to see herself being mimicked on popular telly comedy Miranda, and even get to appear on it herself, as herself! In the hit BBC1 show, actress Sarah Hadland regularly pulled out a stick with Heather’s head on it and belted out her version of Proud. In the very last episode, the lady herself appeared, to sing it right back at her, an experience Sarah described as being like a wave of singing power knocking her over! “People are good at doing impressions until the real thing turns up!” Heather laughs. “I didn’t see it at first, but people told me about it. You can’t miss a programme where you might turn up on a stick! I was very flattered, and anyone who knows me knows I like a laugh and don’t take myself too seriously. To have someone feature you in a popular sitcom, it’s the kind of thing I dreamed about as a little girl.”
See Heather and her amazing seven-piece band on their UK tour on the 16th at Hull City Hall and the 24th at Manchester Stockport Plaza Theatre.
Tuesday 8th March 2016
How’s your Moving On Up tour going?
I’m absolutely loving it, I’m having such fun getting out to the people, doing what I love to do best. The audience reaction has been amazing. It’s been fun – real, real fun. It’s all that I hoped it would be.
Are you looking forward to performing at Hull City Hall?
What’s nice about the tour is that I’ve played some of these old, fantastic theatres with real history. Because the shows have been quite intimate, you really feel like you’re performing in front of friends and family. It’s really warm and it’s been a joy.
Are you showcasing any new songs at these concerts?
Really and truly it’s a celebration of what I’ve done in the past and the people that I admire. It’s a very uplifting set, I wanted it to be celebratory. I signed my first deal at 21 and here I am at 51, still able to sing, go on tour and get close to an audience. That’s made me really happy and I just wanted to showcase that joy really. Next time I’m hoping that I will have some new material. When I finish this tour I will go back to writing, definitely.
You’ve performed with a plethora of the world’s most popular artists. Which collaboration are you most proud of?
I like them all actually. When you stand onstage with Sting or you’re in the studio with Sir Tom Jones you don’t really think to yourself, ‘Which one is better?’ You just think, ‘Lucky me!’ No favourites – all were very enjoyable.
Are there any plans for another M People tour?
No, not at this moment in time. I just doing this solo thing for a while and I have to say I’m really having fun, really enjoying it.
How does it compare – performing with M People and as a solo artist?
The format and song choices are different. There are some M People songs in there but it’s not exclusively M People. (M People band members) Shovell and Paul (Heard) are not there but the band that I play with have all played with M People so I have that familiarity still. There’s a familiarity but there’s also a refreshing difference. You need to change a little and to stretch yourself. For me to go onstage alone with my own song choices is stretching myself. The response has been so great – I feel vindicated.
Do you still suffer from nerves before going onstage?
I’m not an easy performer, it takes a lot for me to get onstage. When I’m onstage it’s absolutely brilliant but beforehand I’m like, ‘Good grief, I’ve got to pull it out of the bag again’. It’s a new venue, a new audience – their expectations are high and so are mine. I don’t like to leave the stage without meeting my own criteria and standards. An audience will forgive anything, but a half-hearted performance is unforgivable.
When do the nerves disappear?
When I start walking onto the stage. When I start walking onto the stage with my microphone I think, ‘yeah, this is where I should be’ but before that all bets are off. People see me beforehand and they think, ‘Is she going to get onstage? Is she going to leave the building?’ My knees jump, I feel nauseous. People think that I’m joking but I’m so not. But going onstage is my high so I thought that I owe it to myself to do it a little bit more than I have done.
How do you stay so passionate about music after all these years?
I’ve always loved what I do. You’re a musician but to be part of the music industry can make you hate what you love to do. But I will never be in that position, I’d rather walk away from the music business and be a music maker than let that happen. The two are distinctly different and you have to remember why you started in the first place – it’s a love and a joy. You’ve been given a gift and you must remember not to abuse it or take it for granted. That people are still willing to pay to come see me sing, well, that’s an absolute blessing – I don’t take that for granted at all. I have still got that love and joy for it like I was 18 still. I’d be short-changing my audience if not.
Oprah Winfrey adopted it your song Proud for her last chat show series. That’s some recognition, isn’t it?
They asked me to sing the song live on her show – it was an honour. This is a woman that I grew up watching and that everyone knows. But the thing that I admire most about her is that her success is self-made but also that she put herself on the line. She had a chat show whereby people were being honest and real but so was she. That was a revelation, that somebody who was interviewing you wanted to know your story but would also, on international TV, tell you theirs.
You’ve sold millions of records, won two Brit Awards, won the Mercury Prize and a number of other accolades. Is there anything else you want to achieve in music?
To tell you the truth, what I’m doing now – having people come see me sing and be happy to part with their money and endorse my love of singing – I would like that to continue. I really do love getting out there and playing live, it’s what I do best. Every night it’s like playing in front of a home crowd and they inspire me to do things vocally that I might not try in the studio. When I go onstage I feel a lightness and a freedom and the positive energy from the audience – and that helps me when I do go back into the studio.
You competed on Strictly Come Dancing in 2008. Would you appear on any other celebrity reality show?
I don’t think so. With Strictly you were learning a skill – to dance. I loved Monday to Friday but Saturday live was a whole different ball game. I did it because I thought it would help with my nerves and my mother and sister are big fans. My sister wasn’t very well and she me asked me whether I’d do it and I said, ‘If you get better then I will do it’. I don’t think I’d do anything else, especially something that watches you 24/7 under a microscope. Good grief, that wouldn’t be fun at all. That’s like a lab experiment. It’s not for me.
Tuesday 8th March 2016
One of the greatest and most distinctive soul/pop voices of the last thirty years, Heather Small returns to the Emerald Isle for a gig in Dublin later this month. When it's pointed out to her that her upcoming gig is at the end of what's effectively a long Saint Patrick's weekend – which means it could be a mental night at the tail-end of the Irish Mardi Gras – she howls with laughter. "My son was born on Saint Patrick's Day!" she says, with a chuckle. "I know all about Saint Patrick's Day. I'm really looking forward to playing Vicar Street. I hear it's a great venue and I'm really looking forward to it. You're only as a good as your last gig and by the time I get to Dublin, with that crowd, that audience, you're always respectful of your audience, I'm sure we'll have a good time. My love of singing, my love of playing live, it never dissipates."
This time around, she's touring with a full band and fans can expect a night of great music and good vibes from a woman whose love of life shows no sign of diminishing. On the phone from her home in London, she laughs constantly throughout our conversation but she is super-serious when it comes to the topic of her performing live. "I tell you, this tour has been going so well," she says, with that unmistakable gravel-in-honey voice that's graced hits such as Moving on Up and Search for the Hero. "I've had a day off today from singing. Every night when I go on stage I think it's the last time I'll ever sing in my life," she laughs. "So I give it my absolute all. I've been enjoying it immensely. It's been going so well. The audiences have been so appreciative and so receptive. It's been fun."
So what kind of set can fans expect? "I have chosen songs that are celebratory and that will leave a good taste, probably make you feel joyous. You don't get to my age without some heartache, but I want to say that there's always tomorrow. It's how we deal with any heartache, any sorrow, any upset, any disappointment. It's either you let it crush you, or you get back up and dust yourself off."
Small still loves the live experience, and as someone who's a vegan and shies away from alcohol – "Anything that is addictive and wants to control me, I don't want to be part of" – she prefers the natural high of performing in public. "Oh I love it," insists the 52-year-old. "I absolutely love it. And I think that people coming to the show, that's what they're seeing. I did a show last night and I was so happy, I said to them I feel like I'm five! I have been in the business a while, but I still have the joy and the love of performing live. That sense of enjoyment, it is fulfilling."
But it will be coming to an end, well this tour at least. Dublin is the second-to-last gig of this current trek and after that Heather Small will be putting her feet up in some very pleasant surroundings with a very special sibling. "After the tour I am going off to Barbados with my sister," she says. "She's celebrating her 50th. Life is not bad, definitely not, but I haven't been off on tour for some time and I'm really enjoying the process. I really, really am. I promised that this year I would sing a lot more than I had been doing, I still go to vocal lessons, I keep myself fit and healthy, this is what I love to do. So I won't be away too long. People have already asked me to come back out on tour in the autumn and it's an offer I cannot refuse."
Her advice to anyone considering a career in music is a simple one: work at it. It takes a lot of polishing to really shine. "If you're a singer, I would say have a few lessons," she offers. "I'd say: whatever you do, hone your craft. Practice every day. Join a band of like-minded people and get out there and play live."
Tuesday 23rd February 2016
Next month Heather Small will perform some of her greatest hits in front of adoring fans at Harlow Playhouse. The 51-year-old is best known as the front-woman of M People, the band who have sold more than 10 million albums in their three decade history.
However, once upon a time Heather worked in an office. "I wanted to move heaven and earth to be a singer," she said. "I used to walk into the ladies' at work, stare into the mirror and say, 'This isn't for ever', like I was doing time in prison."
It was in house band M People that she found fame and fortune. Singles such as Moving on Up, One Night in Heaven and Renaissance were all top 10 hits that helped establish the outfit as a leading light of British music in the 1990s. However, the success wasn't without its challenges. "Some people would say we were just a hit factory, and that we were formulaic," she said. "But the thing is, no one has the formula – it is talent and it is luck. By the time I joined M People I'd had that experience of not making it, so we worked very hard. On this tour, the venues won't be as big as those I played with M People but I'm happy with that."
Heather has never stopped working hard and this latest tour, in comparatively intimate venues, is a reflection on an immaculate life's work.
Thursday 4th February 2016
She’s had a UK number one, recorded the official song for the London 2012 Olympic Games and even appeared on Strictly Come Dancing. But for Heather Small, her main priority now is writing new material and getting back on the road as the 51-year-old makes her way to The Anvil on Sunday, February 7. Despite the success, there is one hurdle Heather has to overcome every time she steps on stage.
“I’m a very nervous performer because before I go on stage, I get stage fright,” she revealed to the Observer. I have a relaxation period as it keeps me calm all day, as you can be explosive on stage. You need to conserve energy. When I go to different cities, I don’t go sightseeing unless I’ve got a few shows in one place. I keep it all together by preparing myself before I go on stage by keeping fit and doing a lot of vocal lessons. There is nothing worse than going on stage and feeling ill as you don’t want to short change an audience, and you don’t want to short change yourself.”
There is one song in particular that Heather is known for in recent years, as her 2000 hit ‘Proud’ became the official anthem for the 2012 Olympic Games. To be associated with something so big where we had two glorious weeks of sport, weather and where there were thousands of people from all over the world was like the perfect time,” she said. To be part of that was an absolute honour.”
Talking about Sunday’s show, Heather added: “I will be coming to the people so that it can be accessible to all. This show is a celebration and I want as many people as possible to come, and not travel miles away to see me sing. I want to go out and see them as that is always fun."
Heather also revealed that she plans on writing new solo material this year.
Monday 1st February 2016
Marking her three decades in the music business, it is a chance to celebrate all the major successes along the way and maybe even give a hint of things still to come.
Speaking to Cumbria Live back in December, Small said: "Of course there will be the songs that people know me for - why wouldn't I do that? That's what they are looking forward to when they come to see me, but there will be a few covers of songs that I enjoy singing. There are songs that I loved singing when I started out at 21, and I'll still enjoy singing at 51."
"It is a long time since the last album, but my singing is better than ever, so I'd like to do it justice and record something soon."
Her last Cumbrian show was in Ulverston at the start of December, appearing alongside the One Voice Community Gospel Choir in a charity concert at the Coronation Hall, was a major coup. "It was a really good show and a lovely evening," she says. "It was a little thing in a small place, but everyone came with the right mentality and the best of intentions."
"I've been to Cumbria a few times and I'm an adopted Northerner really, from my time with M People. I can't say I've thought too much about the Barrow show yet though, because I like to keep it all a bit hazy as I get so nervous. I'm getting more and more nervous about playing live these days - so I thought the best remedy for that is to book myself on a 27-date tour! I just want it to be as joyous as I can make it, because I still do it for the love of it. It isn't about any money I make, it's all about the feeling it gives you."
Hull Daily Mail
Tuesday 26th January 2016
Long before M People and the multi-million selling albums, you'd have found Heather Small in an office. This front- woman, whose soulful voice has echoed in arenas around the world, wasn't, it's fair to say, destined to be an administration officer. "I wanted to move heaven and earth to be a singer," Heather told the View. "I used to walk into the ladies' at work, stare into the mirror and say, 'This isn't for ever', like I was doing time in prison.
Three decades on Heather is about to set out on her latest greatest hits tour. Her new series of shows, which include Hull City Hall, mark Heather's first live performances in four years.
Despite her experience, the Londoner admits she's feeling a few nerves. "When I get out on stage, it is so easy. I feel happy and confident. But before that, it is not so easy," Heather said. "It is the pressure you put on yourself. I'm not going out to be mediocre and, as a lot of people have seen me before, I don't want them to think, 'She's not as good as last time'."
The desire to make an impression is something she links back to her heroes, including Ella Fitzgerald and Marvin Gaye. "It is anyone who has a distinctive voice and presence," Heather said. "You want to see someone who gives you something extra on stage. They have to be larger than life – you want to feel that energy and love and passion. When I saw Nina Simone at the Festival Hall, I cried. She was still as feisty, still as passionate, and still loved what she was doing. It humbled me. I thought if I can make one person in my audience feel that way then I'll be happy."
The singer, who punctuates the conversation with peals of booming laughter, says she always felt a "little different" – and destined to do something creative with her life. Growing up in a Caribbean family, Heather looked to performers such as the singer Joan Armatrading, who was born in St Kitts and grew up in Birmingham, as an inspiration. "She used that background to make music. I thought if she can do it, then I can, too," Heather said. "Then when I was watching Top of The Pops, I'd see people like Boy George. "Seeing someone different like that inspired me, because I felt different as well. I thought then that music must be the refuge for the creative misfit. It was a joy for me, because seeing them made me realise there must be a place for me, too."
M People, who sold more than ten million albums, found themselves mocked as "hit-makers". "Some people would say we were just a hit factory, and that we were formulaic. But the thing is, no one has the formula – it is talent and it is luck," she said. "By the time I joined M People I'd had that experience of not making it, so we worked very hard. On this tour, the venues won't be as big as those I played with M People but I'm happy with that. "Someone said to me, 'You'll be able to see the whites of their eyes', so I told them I'll make sure I've brushed my teeth. However many people there are, it is the connection you make with the audience that is the greatest thing."
bradford telegraph & argus
Friday 22nd January 2016
"I've sung Proud with children's choirs, a gay choir, a Christian choir. I feel it's no longer my song; the people own it," says Heather, 51. "It's often sung in school assemblies. That's what music is all about - bringing people together and making them feel good." The song was also adopted by Miranda Hart in her sitcom, and Heather made a cameo appearance in the final episode. "It was fun but respectful," she says. "If people turn up to my concerts wearing Heather Small masks I'll know why!"
Next month Heather is in Bradford, with what she describes as a "joyous, celebratory" show. As well as performing her own hits, she pays tribute to singers who inspired her. "Listening to the radio growing up in the '70s, I admired people like Gladys Knight, Elkie Brooks, Bob Marley, even Abba," she says. "Watching singers like Joan Armatrading, an artist of Afro-Caribbean descent who loved her craft and had her own individual style, I saw there was a place for me. There are two types of music; good and bad. The genre shouldn't matter. M People were big in the Britpop era, we were on Top of the Pops with Oasis. It was a good mix."
"I'm a better singer than I was, and I've got more to give. There are different layers to my voice," she says. "I set myself high standards and I'm careful about the songs I choose. This tour is about celebrating my songs and the women I admire. February is a cold, miserable time; this is a feelgood show, I want the audience to get up and dance. My songs are played at important times in people's lives; events such as weddings and funerals. Performing them is an honour, a privilege, and when I sing them I feel I could fly off the stage and the audience would catch me."
Does she feel more comfortable as a solo singer? "Sometimes part of me is terrified!" she laughs. "But I can do the songs justice; it comes with age and experience. That's not to say that younger singers don't have passion - look at Adele and Amy Winehouse."
In 2008 Heather took part in BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing, reaching the eighth week of the contest. "It was a bubble and I learned so much - those professional dancers are hardcore - but Saturday nights were terrifying. I won't be doing any waltzes on stage," she says, breaking into her infectious laugh.
Thursday 21st January 2016
Heather said: “I love to do live work and I signed my first record deal when I was 21. I’ll be 51 this year so it will be a celebration of that. It will be a lot of the old songs, the songs that I really like to perform live. There is going to be some covers by some female artists. I am reluctant to say what I will be performing because we are still working on the set list.”
She picks out a favourite artist who has inspired her career. Heather added: “I loved Gladys Knight and while my tone of voice is fairly similar, if not my technique and that was inspired me to sing. It is when I am at my happiest."
However for someone who has appeared on some of the world’s biggest stages, she’s suffers with a touch of stage fright. Heather added: “I still actually get nervous before I appear on stage. Even now, although as soon as I get on stage, I am better. I remind myself that performing in front of the audience is the thing I most love to do and the end feeling is worth all of the nerves.”
But for an artist of her pedigree, it is a tough question for her to pick a favourite. “I think any of my songs could become a favourite depending on the reaction from the audience. However I really like Moving On Up. It was something very different for the band from what we were doing at the time and it was our first break through hit. Even when we were recording it, I thought it was a great song but everyone else in the band were convinced that it was a smash hit."
"The other one is Proud because it was the first song I did solo and that was just me. All of the decisions were down to me.” Proud was also the anthem of the 2012 Olympics, and while she is indeed proud now, it did come with a backlash at the time. “It was an honour that Proud was chosen to be the anthem of the Olympics even though I did get abuse in the street from people after the announcement. We didn’t know the names of the sports people when they started, but we cheered them on and we now know their names. We put on an absolutely brilliant Olympics and I was on holiday later in the same year in Mexico and overheard people saying how brilliant the Olympics was in London. They were sad that it was only two weeks and wish it could have been longer.”
The song has also been used in the popular sitcom Miranda, and its association which she is happy about. So much so that she appeared in the final episode of the show. Heather added: “I think it is great that it has entered the psyche of the public that the song could be used to make people laugh. And it was very respectful and funny."
Saturday 9th January 2016
She’s back on the road from February for a theatre tour that will include a headline gig on February 17 at Birmingham’s Jam House, a similar show on February 21 at Cannock’s Prince of Wales Centre and a further show at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn on February 28.
Small says: “I’ve got 27 dates all over the country. I usually get nervous and I am terrible before I go on. If you see me beforehand, you’d think ‘she has never sung to an audience before’. People can’t believe it. But when I’m on the stage, I love it. I feel as if I’m in control."
“You know, I’m going to do some M People hits and some covers from ladies that I admire. It’s celebratory and joyous. I want people to forget their worries and troubles and have a good time.”
Small’s show will pay tribute to some of Britain’s great soul and jazz singers. “Elkie Brooks is one,” she says. “People ask me who my influences are and everybody knows that it’s an amalgamation of many things. I love the America singers and Gladys Knight, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Aretha are always there. But there have also been British ladies who have helped me on my journey, like Joan Armatrading and Annie Lennox. They are ladies who seem strong-minded and know what they want. Also, they’re not harsh or mean. They are talented women. Joan Armatrading was a real inspiration because she was of African Caribbean descent, living in this eclectic mix in Britain where there was all types of music. I was similar. I grew up listening to Abba as well as Peter Tosh in the 1970s. To this day, if I go and see Joan sing, I cry."
“But my closest co-horts aren’t people from the industry. They are my mother and my sister. They’ve seen every step of my journey. In the early days, I’d be coming home late from doing a demo. It would be 12 midnight and they’d come and listen to the song and they were always supportive. I never saw them yawn.”
For now, Small’s plans for her tour can wait. She has more important things to think of, most notably her new puppy. “I have a new puppy. She won’t go in the right place, if you know what I mean. I’m giving her treats to encourage her and she went on the mat. She’s a toy poodle. I’ve never had a pet before because I’m allergic to animal fur. But she was recommended to me and it’s been great. Toy poodles are good for me. She’s such a good girl.”
Small has enjoyed a remarkable career and has maintained her status for 25 years. “I signed my first deal at Hot House when I was 21. At 24 I was dropped. We recorded the second album, but they dropped us and it was cheaper for them to pay us off. I was quite flat. And I was very shy. And I used to think ‘if this doesn’t work out I most probably won’t sing again’. It took me so long to join a band. The guys in M People had the same management as me. They said if I ever wanted to demo songs, I could go along. I went along and heard those songs and it was like they were written for me. They let me do them the way I felt. After that, I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t have my first hit until I was in my mid-to-late 20s. By the time I was in M People, I was ready for it. I thought singing was going to be something on the side, I didn’t think I’d make a living from it. But not long after joining we got signed and it took off for the band relatively quickly.”
Small remains humble about the extraordinary level of success the band achieved. Northern Soul gave them their breakthrough, reaching number 26 on the chart in 1991. Two years later, Elegant Slumming smashed it out of the park. Bizarre Fruit was a quintuple platinum album in 1994 while Fresco went double platinum two years later. "We were grateful and happy and willing to work at it. It happened on our own terms with songs that we were proud of and we’d worked on. We didn’t have to change. You know, it goes quickly but it was so, so much fun. We were like-minded people, best friends and doing what we love to do. It was great. We were old enough to realise that. If it comes too early, you think it’s easy. "
“Beyond the band, I think the happiness comes from the fact that people were willing to accept me outside the band. People had regard for my voice and I realised that I’d connected with the British psyche. They were willing to invest in me. They realised I was serious about being a singer and that was everything to me. I didn’t deviate from what I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to compromise.”
She moved on from the band and launched her solo career. “I took that risk. But success is measured in many ways. “You don’t have to make the money or live in a certain way, that’s not what brings happiness. I always knew something new and fresh would dethrone me. but I wanted to stay in court. I didn’t want to be outside the palace gates. That was the whole thing about Proud. I was celebrating the little successes that might have seemed small to other people but they were huge to me.”
The Voice Online
Saturday 9th January 2016
As part of the group M People, hits such as Moving On Up and One Night In Heaven and albums like Elegant Slumming and Bizarre Fruit achieved massive worldwide success and Heather became one of the seminal British voices of the 1990s, with the band winning the Best British Dance Act Award at the Brits in 1994 and 1995, as well a Mercury Music Prize. Not that Small is bothered about the accolades now, admitting that her awards are now “in the back of my wardrobe somewhere”. “The best award, the testimony to your talent, is people still going out to buy your music and still going out to buy your tickets,” Small says. “And if they're still willing to do that for me after all this time, that truly makes me happy. That's where the joy comes from. I'm still able to call myself a singer and go out there and have an audience. Most people want to share their music because it's a communal thing and when it feels really good, it can almost feel like a spiritual thing.”
Small has since had great successes with two solo albums - the title track of her Proud album has gone on to become the soundtrack to a whole host of very special events including London's successful 2012 Olympic bid, the 60th anniversary of VE Day in Trafalgar Square, the launch of Queen Mary 2, the Tsunami Relief Concert, England's victory at the Rugby World Cup celebrations, and the official ceremony marking the handover of the Olympic Games from Beijing to London. And how does it feel to know that the record has stood the test of time? “It's a gift from God,” the 50-year-old tells Life & Style. “As a young girl, dancing around my council flat using a hair brush, that was my dream - to have a few signature songs that fans will remember for years and years. It's a dream come true. You feel like you're floating.” She adds: “It's not for me to say whether something is iconic or not because it's not my place, but I'm more than happy to still sing those songs.”
And when Oprah Winfrey was looking for a song to sum up the work she'd been striving to achieve over her twenty-year career, she got in touch with Heather, who somehow managed to squeeze in a trip across the Atlantic to perform on the show right in the middle of her last UK tour with M People. “If Oprah calls, you go!” she laughs, adding that the first lady of chat was “very sweet to me”.
This year, she'll embark on a two-month tour across the UK, where she'll perform all her best hits.
Interestingly, Small has picked up a new generation of fans thanks to an unlikely source. Miranda actress Sarah Hadland has become well-known for her trademark impression of the singer. In the BBC1 comedy series, her character, Stevie, often goads her friend Miranda by wielding a cardboard Heather Small face on a stick while singing: “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” Luckily, Small is flattered by the impression, rather than offended by being the butt of the ongoing skit. “I'm totally flattered,” she laughs. “Anyone who knows me, knows I like to laugh a lot and laugh at myself mostly.”
First signing a record deal at the age of 21, the star will be celebrating three decades in show business this year. “For people to still come out and see me, that's something worth celebrating. This is a business where you can be made to hate what you do, but that hasn't happened to me.”
Famous for her distinctive vocals, an incredible 'fountain' of hair and an infectious laugh Small is still very much on form. And even though she's passed the big 5-0 mark, she shows no signs of stopping. She says: “To tell you the truth, I love my age. I'm going on tour, I'm still able to get on the stage and do my thing unassisted - it's all good! I just try and enjoy every stage in life. We all have our own trial and tribulations, but I look at it like this - 'would I rather be here or not?' and I'd rather be here. It's a great age,” she adds. “My niece, she's 23, she said to her mother and myself 'you make me look forward to getting older', and that's the biggest compliment you can ever get about being mature. I'm mature, I have the experience, and I bring all of that to the stage - personality wise and vocally. It's joyous for me.”
Tuesday 29th December 2015
The Voice of M People Heather Small performs at Motherwell Concert Hall in March as she celebrates 30 years in music.
Heather said: “I was very shy as a child so I was never involved in choirs or drama groups or anything like that, my singing didn’t get past the playground. However, I always felt I had a voice inside me so when I was 18 a case of now or never to find out and I summoned up the courage to audition.”
Heather joined her first band Hot House who received a lot of critical praise, but this didn’t translate into sales and were dropped by their record label. Heather would go on to have a number one single with Ride on Time by Black Box in 1989, even if to this day she is coy about whether or not it is her on the record. She said: “Some people think it is me on the song, some people don’t, I just leave them to make up their own mind.”
At 24 Heather joined Mike Pickering, Paul Heald and Shovel in the newly formed M People, initially the plan had been for the band to rotate different singers for each song but quickly she became irreplaceable. Heather said: “It was a bit of a change for me as Hot House had been more blues and soul and here I was suddenly learning to perform dance music. It took some effort, but eventually I got to a place where I was comfortable being myself and obviously we had some great success.”
Two years ago M People reformed for a tour, but Heather is now keen to draw a line under that part of her career. She said: “You have to move on, if you leave things hanging then people always want to know when you’ll get back together, but as far as I’m concerned there will be no more M People. I don’t want to tempt fate, I think what we did was good, very good in fact, but I am happy to leave it there.”
Heather is no longer the shy teenager she once was, but admits to still being terribly nervous before going on stage. She said: “I can hardly believe it has been 30 years since I started with Hot House the time has just gone by so quickly, it really hasn’t seemed like any time at all has passed. All I’ve ever wanted to do was sing and even when my son was born I was in the studio within days to do Perfect Day because I was just so desperate to sing again. I still get nervous before I go on stage, but I think it’s just because I want everything to go well - it doesn’t matter the venue you want everything to be right. Once I am on stage and I have the microphone in my hand then I’m fine, but I do need to draw on my experience for those first few moments to get started.”
Heather has performed all over the world, but always enjoys the opportunity to return to Scotland. She said: “I’ve always loved performing in the Glasgow as the atmosphere is so electric, the audience is just up for it ,and I have no doubt it will be exactly the same in Motherwell given it’s proximity to Glasgow. I hear the council spent some money improving the concert hall so it has better lighting and sound so knowing that you are going into a first class venue means I can concentrate on ensuring the audience get to enjoy a great show.”
The difference between an Heather Small and an M People show is quite obvious as Heather points out, but promises fans of her old band won’t be left disappointed. She said: “Obviously the rest of the band aren’t with me, but I have got a fabulous group of experienced musicians joining me on stage. I’ve known them all for a long time and I know they are just as keen as I am to put on a great show. Being on my own really means that I have the opportunity to sing what I want, I’ll do some M People hits and some of my own solo work, but it also gives me the chance to maybe do something a little different. There is much more freedom, if there is a song I like and fancy performing then I can just add it to the set list and show after 30 years just who the singer is that Heather Small has become.”
Monday 14th December 2015
Heather Small heads to Wirral as part of her solo tour next year. The former lead singer of 90s band M People is at the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton on February 19.
Looking forward to the Floral Pavilion show, London-born Heather told the Globe: "I just want people to come and celebrate what I do. The fact that people still want to see me live is a huge honour. So come along, forget your worries and enjoy the show."
In 2008, Heather became a contestant on series six of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. She stayed in the competition for eight weeks. Looking back at the show, she laughed: "It was a fun time for me. Suddenly I was the golden girl. Neighbours that had never spoken to me before suddenly started talking to me. It was so funny."
And she has no plans to give up singing: "If you got the feeling I do when I sing, you’d understand. There are plans for a new album, which I can't wait to get started on. I'm sounding and singing a lot better than I have ever sounded."
Lancashire Evening Post
Sunday 13th December 2015
Heather was signed at the age of 21 with her first group Hothouse but was dropped by her label at 24-years-old, it was at that point she was spotted by Mike and M People formed. Heather said: “I realised then I love singing, it wasn’t about making money or being famous, I was able to showcase my voice with M People. Your sound is your sound. I was told I have a sound but you don’t know you have one. My voice was like Marmite you either loved it or hated it. Fame was a gradual thing, we didn’t have fans that wanted to rip our clothes like with Take That, people wanted our music, it wasn’t that sort of level! “I don’t think of myself as famous, Beyonce Knowles, she’s famous yes.”
Heather has always had a passion for music ever since she was an eight-year-old girl singing in the playground. But the shy singer kept the dream to herself for a while until she wanted to do better for her family. “I felt intrigued, if I didn’t give it a go I would have been thinking what if? I grew up on a council estate with immigrant parents, a lot of people thought this is not something to wish upon yourself (singing) but I knew there was something better, there was aspiration. I felt my mother had worked so hard, I wanted to do something to make it worth while but leaving family at 18 was hard, I would cry myself to sleep at night.”
The passionate singer also spoke out on the recent flooding chaos that hit the district recently. She said: “What is so amazing is people are going out and helping each other in the community. That sense of community and being your brothers keeper in that situation is so inspirational. The timing of the flooding couldn’t have been worse, it is difficult when you are seeing it on TV. I have to say perceiver and keep doing what you are doing and taking your own future and plans into your own hands.”
The famous singer will turn 51 next year and can’t wait to perform at Lancaster’s Grand Theatre. "The fact that I am still singing is great, I love to sing, I love to perform in front of a appreciative audience. The show is a very lively set, I want to see people singing and dancing along and feeling happy because happiness is not easily achieved in the months of February and March when the weather is not at its best. I want people to come and celebrate with me, I have earned my stripes.”
Sunday 6th December 2015
Thirty years on from her musical debut, the party goes on as Heather Small, the iconic voice of M People, prepares for her upcoming UK tour and looks forward to her special performance at Louth Town Hall in March.
Heather’s early singing origins are not widely known and it would seem even less likely that they would be connected to such a celebrated singer. “The truth is, I was a very, very shy child,” Heather admits. “I never sung once publicly during my childhood not even in a choir or in front of my parents or relatives. I always wanted to sing, I knew I needed to. I always liked music, the feeling it gave to me. I was often late for school or work because I was trying to squeeze in listening to the records before I really had to go out! During my teenage years, I was greatly influenced by singers who had that way of conveying things, it was a journey, a style, just embedded into you.”
It was not until the age of eighteen however that Heather could finally unveil both her passion and her gift and make her long-overdue singing debut. “I saw an advert to audition for a singer in a music newspaper called Melody Maker and I just went for it,” Heather says. “I was very nervous and I had to take two of my friends with me for some much-needed moral support. I was extremely surprised when they asked me back and told me that they liked my style. They signed me on and I joined my first band called Hot House. It was great! I thought I had arrived and I didn’t know for how long it was going to last. As a teenager growing up, I knew that a nine to five job wouldn’t be for me, I was prepared to work hard for what I wanted. I just wanted to earn something more for myself. I wanted to be happy and be successful in doing that. You have to have a vision for yourself.”
After achieving a little recognition for her distinguished singing style, Heather left Hot House to join M People with whom she attained her greatest success. “A very important song to me is ‘Moving on Up’,” Heather says. “It was an unexpected hit. I thought it was a big risk but nobody else did. In a band someone is always strong for you. Because the style was only M People that song really seemed to represent me and my own personality. I could use my voice the way I wanted to. The song has gumption and courage. I think that Search for the Hero is also a very poignant number and many people have said me to that it meant a lot to them as well. It is very encouraging and it certainly took me back to my own shyness and how I had to dig deep even to find the courage to tell my Mum that I wanted to be a singer. She was very supportive by the way so I learned that if you do search for that something extra inside you will find it.”
After enjoying a fruitful career for several decades and still counting, Heather loves nothing more than to go on tour and enjoy a night of the hits with the audience. “I love being on stage!” Heather enthuses, “If people come to see the show then their on your side and that makes me feel great and that really does help me to give the best performance I can give."
This year marks a grand total of thirty years since Heather was officially signed to her first band and she is celebrating the achievement with an extensive tour. “I’m really looking forward to the tour,” Heather says, “It’s been a little while since I was last out and I’ve really missed it. I really feel I wanted to celebrate my fortune. I’m still singing, I still enjoy it, in fact, I’m still very much in love with it and every single gig is still exciting!
One extremely special date in Heather’s diary is her upcoming appearance at Louth Town Hall on Saturday March 26. “I have a soft spot for Lincolnshire,” Heather admits, “It’s beautiful and I always particularly enjoy the gigs whenever I’m in the area. Music has been good to me in that it has afforded me some truly fantastic travel experience and Norfolk really is no exception. It is a wonderful place. I was born and bred in West London so getting out into the countryside of Lincolnshire is really a breath of fresh air. I have been to the county before but never to Louth so I am really looking forward to it and especially since Louth is the last date on my tour, it is going to be a big party night. I enjoy driving so I shall be driving myself to the Town Hall and that means that I shall be able to enjoy the countryside all on my own. I have heard that it is one of the market days as well so if I can get there in good time I’ll hope to have a good look around the town. I have been told to look out for the food shops so I might spoil myself. I can’t wait.”
Monday 30th November 2015
Heather Small, formerly the lead singer of hugely-successful ‘90s dance act M People, will perform at the Rose Club in Hindley in March as part of a string of more than 20 UK dates.
She is no stranger to the borough, having previously lived here while in a long-term relationship with Wigan rugby league legend Shaun Edwards, and was keen to return to the town to perform at the venue formerly called the Monaco Ballroom. Gig promoter Paul Maiden said: “She wanted to play Wigan really badly and the tour manager came to me to arrange it. The Rose Club has a great pedigree for putting big acts on from when it was the Monaco so hopefully we can bring back a bit of the atmosphere from that time. I’m looking forward to it, a gig like this is taking the Wigan music scene to the next level.”
Now touring as The Voice of M People, Heather is promising her fans plenty of the hits which have made her name during her career both in groups and as a solo artist.