Irish Daily Star artcle:
It's hard to believe it has been 20 years since Heather Small and M People released their smash-hit second album Elegant Slumming — which catapulted them from being a small acid house band to one of the success stories of the 1990s.
Speaking to The Scene after their 20th anniversary gig in Dublin’s Vicar Street at the weekend, a charismatic Heather shares her memories of meeting DJ bandmate Mike Pickering and how M People all began.
“Mike was always DJ-ing, he was a major part of the acid house scene where I lived in London,” she said. But, when I was walking down the street with him in Manchester, he was already a superstar. It was a scene where people were quite happy and good to each other, because it was the time of the Thatcher years and for the working-class person it was quite tough — as it is now — so to get away from your everyday life was quite positive.”
Formed by Pickering — who doesn’t feature in the current tour — M People were originally going to feature a number of different singers, but Heather’s distinctive voice soon stood out from the rest.
“It was going to be a collective so on the first album Northern Soul we had more than one singer and lots of different musicians. It was a turning point for me I was a session singer and I was being picked out from the others and the songs really suited my voice. I went away and put something from myself into these songs and I think maybe that’s what people heard so by album two we had all independently come to the decision that we should move forward with just one singer and that would be me.”
With Heather at the forefront, M People — whose other members are Paul Heard and Shovell — started putting together the finishing touches to the monumental Elegant Slumming, which included anthems such as One Night In Heaven and Moving On Up. The collection of positive and uplifting dance songs won the band the coveted Mercury Music prize that year.
“We knew what worked for us and those songs had been specifically written for my voice and my attitude. It was so exciting it really just felt like home. We all had our roles to play and the addition of Shovell brought this warm, fun, positive energy and that’s good for any environment.”
The follow-up to Elegant Slumming, 1994’s Bizarre Fruit, was another smash and stayed in the UK charts for two and a half years. Asked how she dealt with the new-found success, Heather laughs:
“It depends on how you measure success doesn’t it? I was known as a singer, I was learning my craft and loving it and I was running around the world with my best friends. When I went on stage in Dublin I’m not going to be like ‘Oh I sold a million records and I won the Mercury Music Prize! Before, I had to prove something and now I have a reputation to uphold — so you know, you’re never complacent.”
M People shied away from the limelight for most of the noughties, although Heather did enjoy brief solo success. And in case you were wondering, their comeback gig went down a storm.