Vocalist Heather Small chats to Alice Rook of Do More - Dorset about their forthcoming 20th Anniversary Greatest Hits Tour and explains why she can’t get wait to get back on the road...
I’m sure you get asked this a fair bit… but what does the ‘M’ in M People stand for?
It stands for the original member who put us together, Mike Pickering. He originally formed the group.
M People is the ultimate feel-good band. What do you think are the ingredients required to produce a hit record?
I think that what makes any good record is the content of a song and how it connects with the listener. The lyrics and the production of the song are important. It’s very difficult though – you can never sit down to write and say ‘Oh, this is going to be a hit.’ Absolutely not! What I can do, is write and perform to the best of my ability and hope that it translates to a third party. But first and foremost, you do what you do for you; it’s something inside of yourself that you want to showcase. You hope that other people enjoy it and find some kind of affinity with it.
It’s been 8 years since M People last toured together… what are you most looking forward to about being back on the road?
The audience and being on stage with band members that you’ve played with before. And also, the energy that live music creates on and off the stage in the audience. It’s magical, there’ absolutely nothing like it; not studio performances, not anything.
What can people expect from your Greatest Hits Tour? Will there be any surprises?
For one, with age comes maturity we hope, and experience. And still the joy for what we do… I think that will be a surprise. I think I’ve matured as a singer and we’ve matured as people, but that zest for life and our enjoyment of playing live will surprise people. It will be just as fresh as it always was because we don’t do it often and so the love and the joy is still there.
Are you planning on playing any festivals in the UK this year?
Me personally, I am performing at Rewind Festival in Edinburgh. They asked me to do it last year and I had an absolute ball; it was so fun.
M People have played Glastonbury before… what was that experience like?
I can only speak for myself but back then, I was thinking ‘Is the audience going to relate? Is it going to translate?’ Especially back then, you know when Glastonbury was known as a rock indie festival… but we were received so well! I think once you go out there, you play your instrument and you do everything to the best of your ability. We had the magic of people knowing the songs. Once you all come together and there’s that kind of energy; it’s all about live music and that’s what people want to hear. We won the audience over; we were in the palm of their hands. It was a very warm and special experience; I’ll never forget it. Very, very special. I always remember the dress I had on as the sun was setting and it was blowing in the wind… and I have a terrible memory! It was the best. There’s nothing like playing to an audience outside; the whole festival atmosphere. Everyone’s happy. I think there’s something about being outside. It’s things that are usually contained within four walls… then you take it outside and there’s magic involved. There’s freedom. You’ve got the big open sky; it just feels larger than life. Make sure you never rest on your laurels… you want people to think ‘Oh my goodness, they should do this more often.’
What was life like for you before M People? Did you always know you were going to end up in the music industry?
I hoped to be a singer. I was in a band before M People called Hot!House and even though we were critically acclaimed, we didn’t sell many records - the second album didn’t get released. So I didn’t know if I was going to make a living from music but I knew that I wanted to. If I had to have an ordinary job and sing on the side then I knew I was willing to do that.
So how did you get involved with M People?
Originally there were other singers on board and they asked me to come along. They said they’d written 2 songs, specifically for me. When I got there it truly felt like those songs had been written for me... How to appeal to a singer’s ego! I just had a ball, I laughed the whole day. I remember thinking to myself ‘This is what it’s supposed to be like.’ And I think that’s what people saw in M People – that we were joyful, grateful. You know, we’d been in bands that hadn’t done anything before so we knew what rejection felt like. We knew what it was like to have your dreams crushed… so to be able to have that chance, however long it lasted, we were determined to enjoy it. I think people liked that aspect of the band. I think there are people who get to a point where they’re like ‘Oh, I’m not really fussed if I sell records or not’ and I think to myself ‘How very ungrateful!’ You know, you’re kicking the people who have long-since supported you in the teeth! You have to remember that it’s lots of people’s dreams. You’re not only fulfilling your own when you get there, you’re showing others it’s as good as you thought it would be. It’s not about the monetary side of things or the finances, it’s about fulfilling something that you aspired to from childhood.
Your solo song ‘Proud’ was very poignantly used as a tribute to the athletes in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it’s a firm favourite of Oprah Winfrey’s and is frequently referenced in the UK sitcom Miranda… what do you think it is about Proud that hits home with so many people? Why is the song so powerful?
It’s powerful to me because I wanted to celebrate self and human endeavor in a very simple way. It’s not always the things that people know you for that make your life the most successful or the happiest. People on the outside looking in would say ‘Well why would you do a solo thing when it’s very comfortable to be in M People?’ But you know, I don’t want to live life comfortably. I don’t want to rest on my laurels. I don’t want to think I’ve achieved everything I’m supposed to. You have to set yourself goals and sometimes those goals mystify others because you don’t have to explain yourself. It’s about waking up each day and feeling that there’s something worthwhile to do with yourself, with your time or with other people. I think that the song is inclusive - life is better when you’ve got others to share experiences with. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s very true. I can hear you, you’re a young girl. I think to myself good on you, I’m happy to hear you doing this interview; that makes me feel good. I think to myself ‘She’s doing her thing’ - it’s all about being collectively proud; it’s a good thing.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Alright sweet girl, you take care.
You can catch M People’s 20th Anniversary Greatest Hits Tour at BIC, Bournemouth on Saturday 12 October. To book tickets, visit www.bic.co.uk or call 0844 576 3000.
Visit the tour page for all dates and venues.