As soon as you hear The Voice, you know it can’t be anyone else. 25 years since her debut single Dreams reached No.1 in the UK, Gabrielle’s voice remains pure, seductive and gloriously unique, one of the most compelling, natural voices in British pop history. In a world of beats-driven electro-pop and synthesised auto-tune, my, how we’ve missed it.
Under My Skin is a lavishly-produced, classy collection of irresistibly sing-along songs, collaboratively created with producers and writers behind Corrine Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse and Paloma Faith.
In late July 2018, the single Shine, an orchestral pop epic written with production super-Swedes Tobias Lundgren and Tim Larsson, was the No.1 most-played song on Radio 2, its video seeing Gabrielle in a scarlet gown, arms outstretched, re-emerging as a stately Grand Diva of transcendental grandeur.
Five million albums sold, 2 Brit Awards, 2 Mobos, an Ivor Novello in 2008 for Outstanding Song Collection (after five previous nominations) and Gabrielle is acknowledged today as not only a stunning vocalist but a writer of instantly memorable melody.
Under My Skin, her first studio album in 11 years, is quintessential Gabrielle, who “freestyles” over musical ideas, with no lyrics yet written, to create her signature sound.
Since her fifth album Always in 2007, Gabrielle’s been a working mum-of-two, spending time on “the school run” (her youngest is now 15), song-writing at home, performing one-off shows across Europe and promoting her 2013 Greatest Hits anniversary collection Now and Always: 20 Years of Dreaming.
Rachel Ducker catches up with Gabrielle to here all about it.
R: Hi Gabrielle how are you today?
I am fine thank you, a bit knackered, I did a show in Birmingham last night, the album launch, so I got to bed at 5am, and so I am sorry if I am a bit slow this morning!
R: I watched your show on your Instagram story this morning and it looked amazing!
[laughs] The audience were amazing, they were phenomenal – they were so lovely and it was so hot, but everybody persevered and it was fantastic.
R: I can’t imagine how hot it must be on stage with all the heat from the lights?
You know, it was crazy, but it was worth every minute of it.
R: I bet! Well onto the first question, I would love to know how you got into music?
Oh my gosh! Well, I’ve always been into music in general; I loved listening to all of the greats such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, all of the pop stuff and the stuff from my mum’s music collection. I was always singing but never imagined I would ever have a career out of it. I remember as a teenager watching ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘Fame’, way before your time… I loved all of the characters and I just really loved music.
It wasn’t until my cousins boyfriend entered a fashion show at a club called ‘Moonlighting’ and they wanted entertainment as well as models, so my cousin put me forward, and I said “no I cant do it, I cant do that”! She said “but you love singing”? and I responded “no, no not in front of people”! Somehow she twisted my arm, and although I was scared I wanted to do it.
Come the night I was on edge, I was so nervous. I was waiting for my mum to arrive and I was literally pushed on stage to sing a Luther Vandross cover song called ‘Any Love’, so that was my first introduction to public singing.
R: How did you get your big break?
Right so, by me singing at ‘Moonlighting’ I ended up dating a guy who paid for me to go to a recording studio with my friend, and her boyfriend paid for her. So we went into the studio to write and record a song together.
The producers liked my voice, and afterwards they said, “we really like your tone”.
Although I should have been more loyal to my friend, she was about ten years older than me and had already had her own record released, when I was asked by the producers to come back, I snapped their hand off.
Obviously, she found out and we weren’t friends again but hey, you know, I was a young girl and I was in pursuit of having my own record like she did. So that’s how it happened, yeah.
After I went back into the studio I was then put out on white label and ahead of my recording label signing me, the white label had fallen into their hands and they came looking for me, so that was how I was put on the radar.
R: What music inspired you growing up?
My musical tastes are diverse, baring in mind I have a 15 year old daughter who loves a bit of Drake, I am the ‘pop tart’ in my house. I love Britney, Pink, Sam Smith, James Arthur and Jay-Z and Beyonce.
I go from one to the other, so, what you’d expect from this middle aged woman is not what I am giving you, I just love pop music. I grew up as an 80’s child so it was like Spandau Ballet, a bit of Michael Jackson, I love Nirvana, The Beatles, and Oasis.
R: Well believe it or not, I grew up listening to you, so its surreal for me to speak to you today!
R: My mum always played your albums…
Lewis Hamilton was telling me the same thing, loads of mum’s force their children to listen to me, [laughs] but that’s really lovely…
R: Oh I am not complaining!
You’re so cute though I love it! Makes me realise how old I am [laughs]
R: You’re not old! I am sure you are the coolest mum going as well?
Oh you’re a diamond thank you very much! I should bring you over to tell my kids that!
R: Speaking of mum’s, I’ve read lots about your mum being a very strong woman and a single parent, bringing yourself and your brothers up and holding down a few jobs… I mean that’s incredible.
Yes, she used to work for the Ministry of Defence, and then she’d do a tailoring job, and also do some piece work, so that was making pieces for smart trousers and suits. Then later on she qualified as a social worker.
I am telling you this, and thinking, my mum, she’s a gangster, she was definitely a gangster, in the sense of holding down three jobs, looking after four kids and doing it for herself.
I say this because she was married, and I remember coming home one day and I just see her laying on the carpet and I thought to myself “your mad what’s the point of having a husband if he isn’t helping”, but my mum was always like, “I want to see if I can do that, and do this”, so she did.
A lot of women do it now. I admired her, but she’s scary in that sense, a lot of people don’t have that energy. She has more energy than I could ever have.
R: Your debut single was ‘Dreams’ in 1993 – does that feel like along time ago now?
Yeah, 25 years, it came out 7th June 1993. Its quite funny as my son is 23 years old, so it was two years after, and the fact that its still one of his favourite songs I am like, wow.
R: I think its still one of a lot of people’s favourite songs.
It’s lovely that year’s later people still tweet how fresh it sounds and I love that.
The success came about because people took it to their hearts and loved it and kind of made my dreams come true and after all this time I can still go out and do what I love.
R: If you hadn’t have got into music what do you think you would be doing now?
Oh easy… I wanted to work with children.
I do love kids… although I can’t wait to get away from mine most of the time [laughs] no I am kidding.
I have been a mum for all of these years and it nice that now they can find their own way, but yeah I think I would be working with kids in some way, shape or form.
R: One of my favourite songs is ‘Rise’, you probably hear that all of the time?
No, I love that, I never take that for granted. A lot of the time people pick out my favourites anyway. So I am happy ‘Rise’ is your favourite.
R: Do you have a favourite song to perform?
Right, I’ve got a few, ‘Rise’ is definitely one of them, I love the response. I also love ‘Sunshine’ and ‘When a Woman’, that’s a song that makes everyone’s booty move! I also love that I can be a bit of a bully with that song, I can get everyone up and dancing! [laughs]
Lastly, ‘Dreams’, and I probably shouldn’t say this, but that is the song I leave to last as its one of my favourites, that was the song that launched me.
R: You’re known for styling your look with an eye patch or a streak of hair, due to an eye condition named Ptosis…
I actually didn’t know what the condition was until I read it in a newspaper.
Yeah, I just call it a lazy eye. It creates a lazy eye; and have had it since I was young.
I had an operation as it was a deadeye muscle and they removed it.
Its one of those things where its better than not seeing, so when people think I don’t have an eye, no I have got two, just one of them is quite sleepy looking.
It’s not something that I show. Some people have this in both their eyes, so I am just grateful its in just one of mine. I have covered it with an eye patch, sunglasses and now it is just hair, but I love that, I love the fact that this is just me.
R: I think now a days its so hard when the young girls look at people in the media and sadly they can become self-conscious about the tiniest of things, I wondered what advice you would give them?
I think like you said, they have these images of what they think women should look like, but women don’t actually look like that, with these filters, and thinned out effects, so for me, I think you have to be yourself and do you.
I grew up at an all girl’s school, they were bitchy and I had a lazy eye and people would make jokes about it. I had the last laugh, as later on I would be out there making music. You just have to believe in yourself, if you don’t believe in you, how can any one else? I could have let my condition hold me back but, I decided to get a big eye patch and I draw all the attention to it.
R: I think that was my point of the question, I think you’ve been inspiring and I think that anyone else with any self doubts or any similar conditions about themselves will be inspired by that too.
I hope so, I had a lot of letters from mum’s with children who were wearing eye patches, who didn’t have eyes.
It was a case of, I was glad to represent people who were different, or not even different, but even if you’ve lost a limb, it doesn’t stop us being humans, or having feelings, we are people after all you know?
Sometimes you have to speak up and not suffer in silence. For example, if someone is bullying you, you go and tell someone. The fact I came out and was able to showcase it, and show people that you can reach your full potential no matter what the issue is was important to me.
R: Thank you for answering that question, I didn’t want to raise it if you didn’t want to discuss it?
Oh no, I am one of these people who are very open, I think the more you can speak about stuff the more people can be inspiring, you just have to accept yourself and be proud of who you are.
I am happy to talk about it but you must know, I’ve go more rabbit than Sainsburys [laughs] Gab by name and gab by nature [laughs]
R: Bless you! [laughs] Your back now with your 6th studio album, ‘Under My Skin’… can you tell us more about that?
I am loving it, because it took a while, 11 years, and now it’s just a case, of doing show cases around the country.
Its such a fun time because it had been so long, and I felt my audience were truly worthy of new material because I have been singing the same stuff for the last 11 years and beyond! Its great to be back.
R: What track do you enjoy listening to the most on the new album?
Oh my god, again, I’ll tell you, there’s ‘Show Me’ and I love ‘Shine’, I have also got a song called ‘Every Step’, I wrote that for a friend of mine who was going through a really bad time in her relationship and like myself, I am not good at taking advice but I am good at giving it.
You can’t tell a close friend to walk away from it all, even though you’d like to, it’s not your place, so I thought ok all you can do is sit and listen.
So I wrote ‘Every Step’ for them. There are so many different songs; ‘Thank You’ is one we put out for the fans.
R: Is it the same music style we are used to hearing?
Oh… so on this album its very much, people keep saying, not me, ‘classic Gabrielle’. I’ve gone off and done country music and things in the past, but this album is pop with the contrast of old school retro, with a bit of soul.
If you hear it you’ll have a better understanding. There’s Gabrielle soul in there!
R: Thank you so much for your time, wishing you all the very best for the album launch!
It’s a pleasure to have talked to you. You take care my darling.
More information about www.gabrielle.co.uk