They’re used to everyone from Madonna to Moby, Pet Shop Boys to Robbie Williams, citing them as an influence. Now the dubstep generation – notably, the acclaimed Darkstar, who cover the League’s 1982 B-side ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ on their current album, North – have begun to pay homage to the original sound of Sheffield.
But they’re about more than esoteric infiltration – there has been mainstream penetration, too, commensurate with a band who gave us the greatest ever Christmas Number 1 single with 1981/2’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’, who have had four Top 10 albums and eight Top 10 singles in the UK as well as two US Number 1 singles and sold 20 million records worldwide: the most lauded TV program of recent times, time-travel saga Ashes To Ashes, based one of its main characters on Joanne Catherall, while the mighty Philip Oakey appeared in a recent episode of Top Gear at the personal behest of Jeremy Clarkson who regularly name-checks the League in his newspaper column.
Then there are the ‘L’ girls, the new generation of synth-driven female pop artists, who have got in on the League-adoring act: La Roux is a known admirer of the electro pioneers, while Little Boots is such a fan she requested Philip Oakey’s input on her debut album. Even Lady Gaga professed to be a devotee when she met them recently; they had adjacent dressing rooms at the ‘V’ Festival.
“She sat there in her bra and pants and we told her we were a huge fan of hers and she told us she was a huge fan of ours as well,” says Susan Ann Sulley, who has never been a waitress in a cocktail bar but has been a member of the League since Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left the band in 1980 to form Heaven 17. “I’m not star-struck by many people and I don’t hero-worship anyone, but she was lovely.”
But not surprisingly for a group who were famously described by David Bowie in 1979 as “the sound of the future”, and indeed the group was once called The Future, The Human League have never been about resting on their laurels or relying on past glories to see them through. Which is why, in March 2011, they will be releasing Credo, their 9th studio album, as brilliant a distillation of their ideas about pop and dancing, glamour and electronics, as anything they have ever done.
They called it Credo, meaning “belief”, for The Human League fans who never stopped believing in the band in the decade since their last album, 2001’s critically acclaimed Secrets.
“When I was growing up, Roxy Music was the most important thing in my life,” explains Philip Oakey, along with Iggy Pop the owner of the most instantly recognizable, dolorous yet authoritative baritone in pop. “When they split up [in 1976], I was bereft. And then one day I opened a music paper and saw an announcement for a new album called Manifesto  – I liked the title and the idea that it was their manifesto, which they believed in it. So I looked for a word like that, because we’ve been in the wilderness for a bit. The word ‘Credo’ is about believing – it says everything about the record, which is exactly the record we would want to have made for release in 2011.”
Credo was produced by ‘I Monster’, the Sheffield duo behind the 2001 single Daydream In Blue and for many years the brains behind a slew of distinctive, playful electronica from the Steel City.
“We can’t understate what I Monster have done,” says Philip of Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling. Susan agrees: “It wouldn’t have taken such a short time had they not been involved. This is the quickest we’ve ever worked.” Adds Philip: “They grabbed the whole thing and simplified it.”
They note the irony of a band who spent years working with musicians from all over the planet, including stellar R&B producers Jam & Lewis on their 1986 single Human and album Crash, now being a Sheffield-only affair.
“We made the decision to not work with Sheffield musicians in case we fell out or something,” says Susan. Laughs Joanne:
“We just didn’t want anyone in Sheffield finding out how horrible we are!” Joking aside, they are delighted with their all-Sheffield set-up. And Joanne credits I Monster with bringing more of a sense of coherence to Credo.
“We wanted it to be a consistent record, not, you know, two tracks with that producer and two tracks with someone else,” she says. “We wanted it to have a unified feel, rather than going from one style to another”.
Credo’s style is a refinement of the approach adopted by The Human League in 1980-1 when they took the revolutionary decision to employ commercial tactics to inveigle experimental art-school ideas into the mainstream. Love Action, Open Your Heart, Sound Of The Crowd, Don’t You Want Me, Do Or Die, Hard Times, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of – these love, or anti-love, songs and anthems for dispossessed teens with their shiny production and hummable melodies, given added momentum by a series of menacing synth-bass riffs and riveting electronic pulse-beats, all presented in that Vogue-magazine-ish way via the artwork for Dare!, were nothing less than acts of radical subterfuge.
And so it is with ‘Credo’ – which Philip, looking forward as ever, sees as the first album of the next stage in The Human League’s evolution – and its eleven tracks, which sound like classic League but are as modern as the finest 21st century chart pop. ‘Never Let Me Go’ is an ecstatic album opener, the Auto-tuned vocals bringing to mind Cheryl Cole if she’d been brought up on Kraftwerk and Moroder as well as Richard X and Xenomania. The phased chorus – “No. Don’t. Go.” – is awesome, effortlessly straddling the high street and the art-house, the League’s stock-in-trade. The first single on an album of potential singles is ‘Night People’, another outrageously catchy burst of suburban disco pop with some of the urban nocturnal drama of ‘Sound Of The Crowd’, the girls’ voices as ever giving the lie to the idea that you have to bellow and blare to emote. ‘Sky’ paints a picture every bit as evocative as your favourite acoustic troubadour and shows what a great songwriter Philip Oakey is. ‘Got To Do’ manages to be, as per the League since day one, weird and utterly irresistible with its reference to “startled simians” harking back to the “sericulture” of ‘Being Boiled’. “Do you turn left, do you turn right, back to your bed or into the night?” croons Philip. “Wake me, shake me, just let me know.” Every lyric, every hook, has been designed for maximum impact. Even the titles – ‘Single Minded’, ‘Electric Shock’ – are immediate and striking. As ever, there is brightness here, with a feeling of danger encroaching on the dancefloor. Above all ‘Credo’ has the energy and sense of purpose of a group of particularly astute and skilled twenty somethings with something to prove about their desire to combine pop song mores with the latest electronics.
“The League have always been into other areas of culture and using bits of Clockwork Orange and JG Ballard, sci-fi and stuff,” says Philip of the lyrics on ‘Credo’ and some of the references in them. “And there has always been something a bit nasty and crude in our music, a quality that I think some of our records lacked and which we tried hard to bring to ‘Credo’ – other electronic groups have a little bit of shine, their records are a bit shimmery and polished and intricate, and that doesn’t suit us. We’ve got to be a bit primitive”.
“We don’t like people being too clever with our stuff or too polished because we’ve never been about that,” contends Joanne.
“But,” adds Philip, “our main aim for ‘Credo’ wasn’t literate lyrics or anything like that. We just wanted it to be catchy, accessible, with good tunes and good riffs, and for everything at every stage to be as memorable as possible.”
‘Credo’ is part of that particular pop lineage that goes from Bowie, Roxy and Kraftwerk to Donna Summer, Chic and Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga, Usher and Girls Aloud. Supremely infectious chart pop music, only with the League you get an extra subversive “x” factor.
“Pop to us has always meant ‘music that you’ve not heard before’,” he asserts. “Now it’s just Saturday night entertainment.” “We sat for a whole morning with loads of Lady Gaga and Usher records, comparing drums for loudness,” explains Susan. “I was saying the drums on ‘Credo’ needed to be really loud!”
‘Credo’ manages to makes itself heard above the brashest state-of-the-art pop productions. It brings some of that primitive essence to the milieu, as well as The Human League’s unique quality of apartness.
“We’re peculiar,” says Susan, utterly unabashed. “People think pop music is X Factor and S Club 7 and we’re still hankering after a Roxy-Bowie-Donna Summer-Chic version of pop. We don’t fit in. People don’t quite appreciate how strange we are. There are three of us, two of whom have never written a song and are pretty average singers, plus we’ve got a lead singer who doesn’t consider himself a singer at all and can’t play any instruments very well. And yet we still think of ourselves as a pop group, not arty-farty or weird. If a market research group got hold of us, they’d change absolutely everything! And yet it works. We shouldn’t have gone on this long as we have – we should have ‘gone rock’ by now, like Depeche Mode, Simple Minds and U2 did. But we’re still a pop group.”
Not just a pop group – possibly the last great pop group. Believe.
Since the release of their breakthrough album We Are Family, this remarkable group has continued to develop and expand their diverse talents, blossoming into multi-faced artists who have received over one hundred awards and commendations for outstanding work in the entertainment field. Highlights include Billboard Artist of the Year, Tokyo Music Festival Silver Award, and Two (2) Grammy Nominations for Best R&B Duo or Group and Record of the Year. The song We Are Family won the Grammy for Record of the Year.
Sister Sledge became established as one of the world’s most successful female groups, setting off a series of events, which made the group virtually a household name. We Are Family became a worldwide family anthem and was adopted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as the team theme. That year, the Pirates claimed victory over the Baltimore Orioles, winning the World Series. Ultimately the album soared past the RIAA Platinum mark, hitting the very top of both Pop and R&B charts.
In the 80s and 90s, the world witnessed the full flowering of four college graduates with subsequent hits, Lost in Music, Love Somebody Today, Reach Your Peak and the international Gold Record, Frankie and World Rise and Shine, number 1 in Italy.
In the new millennium, Sister Sledge continues to sell millions of records worldwide and travel extensively in Asia, Africa, throughout Europe, the Middle East, South America, Australia and the United States, earning rave reviews. “Sister Sledge has the stuff legends are made of,” stated one critic from the Chicago Tribune.
Sister Sledge has captured the hearts of many diverse audiences, from Carnegie Hall in New York, to the Sun Plaza in Tokyo, and from the State Center Accra Ghana, to the Glastonbury Music Festival in United Kingdom, and the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.
Then came the second single What Is Love? which reached number 2 in the UK and the third single, the enigmatic Hide and Seek which showed the spiritual side of Howard Jones’ writing. This was followed by the first album Human’s Lib which came straight in at number one in the UK in April 1984, eventually going platinum and which took the synthesiser and Howard to a new plateau. This success spread across the globe with Human’s Lib going gold in the USA, Japan, Germany, Italy and Australia.
With a large and loyal fanbase and album sales now exceeding eight million, this consummate musician and writer has maintained an admirable independence, writing, recording, performing and touring in the way only he knows how. He has proved that he is one of the most talented writers and performers out there. His independent attitude and his ability and willingness to take risks ensure that he continues to operate on the cutting edge of today’s music.
His first recording on which he played the saxophone was with Hull ska band Akrylykz, the second release on nearby York’s Red Rhino Records. Although this record was unsuccessful, it did bring him to the attention of Andy Cox and David Steele of The Beat. The Akrylykz toured with The Beat, which led to them in around 1985 asking him to be the lead singer of their new band Fine Young Cannibals after their old band, The Beat, had broken up. He also was a guest artist on the Ska City Rollers’ Time Is Tight single.
In 1987, Gift had his first screen role in the film Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. In 1990 he did his first stage work, playing Romeo in the Hull Truck Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a production which had a brief run in the United States at the Staller Center for the Arts. He also appeared as a lounge singer (singing songs that were included in the Fine Young Cannibals album The Raw and the Cooked) in the film Tin Men, directed by Barry Levinson.
In 1989, he appeared in Scandal as Johnny Edgecombe, Christine Keeler’s boyfriend.
In 1990, he was named by People magazine as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” in the world.
In 1993, he began the first of several appearances as the evil Immortal Xavier St. Cloud in the television series Highlander: The Series, and appeared in an episode of the Yorkshire Television series Heartbeat. He has also appeared in the movie The Island of the Mapmaker’s Wife.
In 2002, Gift released a self-titled solo album, featuring the single “It’s Only Money”.
For their first album Whose Side Are You On? they hired unknown polish vocalist Basia Trzetrzelewska. Her vocal arrangements gave the album a jazzy dimension that Reilly and White couldn’t anticipate, and hits like Get Out of Your Lazy Bed and Half a Minute turned Matt Bianco into one of the biggest acts of 1984’s Europe. The band name suggests that Matt Bianco is a personal name, but Matt is “a made up spy, a secret agent; we loved spy TV themes and film scores.”
Basia and Danny White left the group after the first album to pursue a lucrative solo-career with Sony under the name Basia. Mark Reilly, now without a musical partner, found keyboard player and session musician Mark Fisher and recorded the next (self titled) Matt Bianco album, followed by a European tour that saw them perform in front of more than 250,000 people.
After another album with Warner Brothers Samba In Your Casa (1991), Reilly and Fisher split from their record company and went freelance: From now on they would record their albums in their own studios and then offer them to independent distributors worldwide. After twenty years recording and touring Mark Fisher started to crave for a different lifestyle and the two split amicably.
Basia and Danny White joined with Mark Reilly to reform the original Matt Bianco in 2003, after 20 years apart. In 2004, Matt Bianco released the album Matt’s Mood. The following year, they embarked on a world tour, which included stops in the UK, Japan, and the United States.
B.E.F. would produce the now iconic Music For Stowaways, and Music Of Quality and Distinction 1, and provided a template that subsequent artists would use from The Assembly in the Eighties, Electronic in the Nineties, and most recently, the Damon Alban and Jamie Hewlett project, Gorillaz. But its Heaven 17 which would endure and help shape the future of modern music for over thirty years. Their first album, Penthouse And Pavement, is, and remains, a modern classic.
Their next album, The Luxury Gap, was their pop masterpiece, the moment when everything just clicked into place to devastating effect. The bands favourite-ever song, Let Me Go so nearly broke them into the UK Top 40. There would be no such disappoint with its follow up. The band convinced their sceptical record company that Temptation had to be the next single. A duet between Glenn Gregory and Carol Kenyon, this song of lust, brilliantly framed by a musical structure which just kept building and building, Escher-like to an electric orgasm that seems never to come, it reached Number 2 in the UK charts in May 1983.
With hits such as “In And Out Of Love”, “Flashback”, “Music And Lights”, “In The Heat Of The Night” and “Just An Illusion”, millions of singles were sold internationally. Imagination also went platinum worldwide with sales in excess of 30 million albums. As a result Imagination were playing to sold out concerts across the globe. Imagination’s songs have also more recently been sampled by a number of artists including Mariah Carey and The Pharcyde.
Leee and Imagination made their mark not only as musicians but as true masters of stage and performance. They were known for their outrageous costumes and stage shows and as such were invited to perform for the Princes Trust, HRH Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Princess Caroline of Monaco, the Mandela family in South Africa for the charity Operation Hunger and even for the Russian president at the Kremlin.
“Heart & Soul” led to a meteoric rise in T’pau’s fortunes both at home & in the USA, where the track stayed on the US billboard chart for 6 months. After a UK arena tour supporting Bryan Adams, the band immediately toured UK City Halls as headliners to tie in with the next single, the classic ballad “China In Your Hand.” Nobody could have predicted the enormous impact of “China” which stayed at No. 1 for 5 weeks – the longest serving No. 1 of the year! simultaneously Bridge Of Spies occupied the number1 album slot for 2 weeks .Keeping George Harrison off th number 1 single slot & Paul McArtney off the number1 album slot.Two Beatles trounced! ?
To date, “China In Your Hand” has appeared on more than 150 compilations, and has become one of the most played songs of the 1980’s. After further hits such as “Valentine,” “I Will Be With You,” and “Sex Talk,” the “Bridge Of Spies” album was certified quadruple platinum in the UK, selling 1.2 million copies. ‘Rage’ the 2nd album also went platinum.
The original line up of T’pau split in 1991 after the final hit “Whenever You Need Me” (No. 16)
The final album, “Heart & Soul: The Very Best Of T’pau,” was released in 1993. Ron Rogers returned to production and studio work, whilst Carol embarked upon a co-writing career, occasionally performing solo and on other projects. Carol also addressed The Oxford Union in a Q&A about her career and take on the music business, plus an acoustic performance.
By 1997, Carol had taken the decision to build a new T’Pau around her, and get back on the road after assembling a massive amount of new material. A 25-date UK tour in the summer of ’97, including some festivals, preceded the release of a brand new version of “Heart & Soul” on the band’s own Gnatfish label. Encouraged by the response, Carol embarked upon recording ‘Red’ the first new T’pau album for 6 years, After 6 months in the studio, T’pau performed an orchestrated version of “China” with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Princess Diana Tribute Concert at Althorp in June 1998. It was broadcast live around the world, and later in a BBC primetime show. All this no mean feat as Carol had been pregnant throughout the recording of the album and gave birth to her first child, Scarlett Olivia, just 3 weeks before the Diana concert! Business as usual as T’pau quickly joined Status Quo on the European Tour.
In 2004 Carol released The ‘T’pau Live’ album & appeared in the West End cast Of ‘Mum’s the Word’ at The Albery Theatre with Patsy Palmer, Imogen Stubbs & jennie Éclair. Other acting opportunities offered were’ Doctor’s’ for BBC One, ’Star’ with Nicolas Hoult for Children’s BBC Two. Uk films ,’Nine Dead Gay Guys‘ with Steven Berkoff, Fish & Michael Praed. ’Running Time, the first UK Interactive Film & BAFTA nominated.
Recent TV appearances include Buzzcocks, Trigger Happy TV, Hit Me Baby One More Time, Just The Two of Us & The Mathew Wright Show. Carol has always been a regular and popular guest on radio, including Ken Bruce & Steve Wright, Claudia winkleman & Sara Cox. Carol has presented shows for Absolute 80’s, LBC & BBC Radio Berks and is a regular contributor to Sky News.
Carol continues to perform live in concert regularly to huge crowds on the UK at the hugely popular 80’s festival circuit.
In 2013 Carol completed a 28 date T’Pau tour, celebrating 25 years in the business,culminating in a packed out Big Top tent at IOW Festival.
Maizie, original singer from the very birth of Boney M, is now joined by three dynamic singers who are celebrating the success of the second Boney M re-mixed album, The Greatest Hits Of Boney M, which included 14 tracks of the best loved songs and was re-mixed by the original founder of the group, Frank Farian.
It was obvious from the vast number of record sales that the magic of Boney M was still there and now being enjoyed by a new generation. Maizie thought it was time for this new audience to see the energy that goes with each and every one of the group’s songs, and decided that they would tour. Audiences in Russia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Australia and many other countries have since thrilled to the energetic visual performances of all the well loved songs.
Maizie, most definitely the M in Boney M, and the group have revitalised the songs while keeping the same lyrics, giving them a new and modern sound that will have all generations tapping their feet and moving to the new funky beat.
So get ready to sing and dance along to their amazing repertoire, which includes ten top ten hits Brown Girl In The Ring, Ma Baker, Rivers Of Babylon, Daddy Cool, Ra-Ra-Rasputin, Sunny, Belfast, Mary’s Boy Child, Painter Man, Hooray Hooray It’s A Holi-Holiday, and have a great time!
TV/Radio. Appearances have included judging on Britain’s Got More Talent, BBC Breakfast, London Tonight, VH1, Question of Pop, Loose Women, The Wright Stuff, Weekend with Aled, This Morning, BBC’s The Cinema Show and Big Brother’s Big Mouth. Radio interviews include Jonathan Ross, Steve Wright, Edith Bowman, Colin Murray, Claudia Winkleman, Paul Ross, Janice Long, Clive Anderson, Alex Zane, Scott Mills, Jamie Theakston, and Dermot O’Leary. He has presented two shows for VH1/MTV and has taken part in a celebrity edition of The Weakest Link. Chesney also took part in Channel 4’s ‘The Games’ emerging a medal winner, and he performed on the Granada/LWT show ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’ Further appearances include the Ant & Dec Show, The One Show, Daybreak, The Graham Norton Show and in June/July 2015 Chesney took part in Celebrity Masterchef also guesting on ‘Lorraine’ on ITV.
Film/Theatre. Chesney’s first acting role was as Buddy in the rock ‘n roll movie ‘Buddy’s Song’ which featured a cast of young actors destined to make their mark. These included Nick Moran and Julia Sawhala, who went on to create the character Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous, as well as Lee Ross, long before he appeared with Catherine Tate and in Eastenders. Heading the cast was The Who lead singer, Roger Daltrey, playing the role of Chesney’s dad. Chesney’s subsequent career has been firmly rooted in music but he has worked on various comedy drama TV productions including The Spa on Sky 1 with Rebecca Front and Panto on ITV with John Bishop.
Songs/Compositions. Chesney has worked with writers and producers from a broad section of the industry, among them Mark Goldenberg (The Eels), Jesse Valenzuela (The Gin Blossoms) and Counting Crows producer Marvin Etzioni. Other collaborators include Howard Jones, the Police’s Stuart Copeland, Nik Kershaw, Bijou Phillips and more recently Rob Davis (co-writer of Kylie’s Can’t Get you out of My Head). Artists continue to cover his songs and he has had material recorded by three international Pop Idol winners. English band ‘Hepburn’ covered “Next Life”, which Chesney co-wrote with Phil Thornally. (Phil co-wrote “Torn” for Natalie Imbruglia). Caprice charted with “Once Around The Sun” which Chesney co-wrote with Eric Pressley and he also collaborated with Tricky on his ‘Mission Accomplished’ EP. Another of Chesney’s songs, “Almost You”, was in the film “Jawbreaker” starring Rose McGowan and Marilyn Manson and “Missing You Already” was in the film “The Night We Never Met”, starring Matthew Broderick. In mid 2007 Chesney co-composed an orchestral piece commissioned by Lexus Cars for a live presentation. The piece was recorded at AIR Studios by the London Symphony Orchestra. The Duncan Jones movie Source Code, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal, features a Nik Kershaw/Chesney Hawkes production of The One and Only.
In 1985 ‘Walking on Sunshine’ was a top ten hit all around the globe and has since featured in countless advertisements and films including, High Fidelity, Secret of My Success, American Psycho and Walking on Sunshine and it’s been covered by Dolly Parton and was a mash up with Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ sung by the Glee cast. Follow up hits were, ‘Do You Want Crying’ (US Top 40), ‘Sun Street’ (UK Top 30), ‘That’s The Way’ (US #16). Katrina also sang back up vocals on ‘Torn’ by Natalie Imbruglio and has recorded songs with Eric Burdon and Rick Wakeman.
In 1997 Katrina and the Waves’ ‘Love Shine A Light’ won the Eurovision Song Contest with the largest ever margin, followed by an unprecedented four consecutive appearances on Top Of The Pops and a No. 3 in the UK Charts.
Following the split with the Waves in 1999 Katrina pursued an alternative career on radio and TV. She was a TV presenter on Watchdog on BBC1 and had her own show on BBC Radio 2 – where she presented a three-hour show, five days a week. This was followed by a stint in musical theatre, where Katrina played the lead role (the songwriter Ellie Greenwich) in Leader of the Pack, singing some of the songs that had influenced her as a young singer.
Katrina published her first book – Peggy Lee Loves London: My London Guide (Metropoodle Press 2013) about some cool places in London featuring her toy poodle, Peggy Lee. Katrina has performed with her band at festivals and shows in the UK, Europe, South Africa, Canada, Australia and the US where she’s recently completed a couple of North American tours.
2015 was the 30th anniversary of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ and Katrina released her first studio album in 10 years – ‘Blisland’. Currently she is working on a follow up London guide – ‘Peggy Lee Loves London II’.
Unlike so many of her 80’s contemporaries, Jaki’s hits have remained fresh, uncomplicated and modern. Set Me Free remains an ageless pop classic to this day after rocketing to No.7 in the British charts in May ’86, an anthem of that era. Breaking Away followed and offered her first location shoot abroad. It also charted at a respectable No.14 in August ‘86. Step Right Up brought Jaki back to her trademark high energy, up tempo pop hits and gave her yet another Top 20 hit in November ‘86. Her third album with EMI, From Now On was produced in 1987. One track entitled The Better Part of Me was an exceptionally beautiful ballad, with many in the entertainment business convinced that this was Jaki’s firstNo.1, guaranteed! However, surprisingly the changing climate of EMI dictated some often incredibly ill thought out ideas and both the video and album were shelved after three weeks. This decision coincided with Jaki achieving a Guinness World Record for being the first black British female solo artist to have 6 consecutive Top 10 / 20 hits, unheard of by a black British female at that time. In the same year, Michael McDonald came into Jaki’s life looking for a female singer to accompany him on the track ‘On My Own’ for his UK Tour. Michael, who has worked with some of the most influential names in showbiz including Patti Labelle and Aretha Franklin, personally chose Jaki over a stream of other UK female vocalists. After hearing her voice, he was quoted as saying that Jaki was ‘one of the best singers Britain has ever produced’. A deep friendship and mutual respect grew between the two artists and to this day, Michael’s first choice for a UK singing partner remains Jaki. Towards the end of the 80’s, sales and figures provided by Billboard magazine had established Jaki as Britain’s most successful black female artist ever. Not surprisingly, Jaki’s success was not limited to the shores of the United Kingdom. People of every culture and language from every corner of the globe loved her natural vocal perfection. The distinct, powerful delivery, coupled with her warm and compassionate ease seemed to melt the barriers of language, colour and creed. Denmark, Germany, Japan, Australia, South Africa – places she had only ever dreamed of visiting – loved her and her fan base grew worldwide.
This marked a turning point and in Japan, Jaki was particularly successful and released albums and singles there that England never even knew existed . Her first album Real Life sold more than 800,000 copies in less than four weeks. By today’s standards, this record is only surpassed by the elite few. Furthermore, tickets for her Japanese tour sold out in 20 minutes flat, outselling some of her well known US contemporaries. In true down to earth style, her reaction was simply, ‘For real?’ Real Life gave Jaki many international hit singles and elevated her status further. Ain’t Nobody did exceptionally well in the United States reaching No.1 in the Billboard dance charts for 5 weeks, with its impressive video also rocketing to the Top 5 in the American Black Entertainment Charts (BET). In retrospect, it is a pity that England never had the chance to hear Jaki’s work at the time as it showed growth, professionalism and a polished depth not heard from Jaki before. In fact, it represents some of her best work (and at the same time least known to UK fans). This album, along with those that followed however, are now available on digital release in the UK, USA and Canada. Ain’t Nobody, Absolute E-Sensual, Real Life and You Can Count On Me are outstanding tracks which were released in 1994. Jaki had effortlessly slipped into the 90’s era of music and as a result, won over a new legion of eager fans worldwide. Sales of Ain’t Nobody reached gold in Australia, Japan and the USA and her next album Best Shots released only in Japan, responded quickly to her popularity with a greatest hits album. Michael McDonald also contributed album tracks specifically for Jaki, with Through Your Eyes in particular being a classic that still stands the test of time. When Jaki appeared on a German TV show with Boy George, he summed her up completely saying ‘You’ll never meet a harder working artist than Jaki Graham’. In ‘95, Jaki released her next Japanese CD entitled Rhythm of Life, followed by My Life in ‘96 and Hold On in ‘98. Sweden also took a great interest in her by releasing singles unique only to that country such as The Christmas Song and Seek and You Will Find which are now rare and highly sought after by collectors. During this period, Motown signed the album Kiss the Sky, which featured Jaki on lead and backing vocals, and has since gone on to sell in excess of a million copies worldwide, meaning the girl from Handsworth was now officially Motown.
Following years of travelling the world and continuing to constantly perform live, 2009 marked a hectic year for Jaki. After being approached by the BBC to work with the BBC Big Band as part of their Radio 2 special, Jaki had only a couple of months to prepare to perform Gershwin classics, that would finally give her the opportunity to sing Jazz! Following her Gershwin & Soul concert in October 2009, people were amazed, having not heard her perform in this genre until now, and not even realising that this too was in her repertoire. Only two weeks after the concert was put out across the airwaves, she received a phone call again from the BBC and the second concert was confirmed, having received a phenomenal worldwide response from the first performance.
March 12th 2010 saw Jaki again performing with the BBC Big Band, this time for an evening of Duke Ellington classics. March also saw the international release of Jaki’s 3 Japanese albums. Until this point Real Life, Rhythm of Life and My Life had only been available in limited territories which had meant that many fans have never heard some of her finest recordings. 2010 continued to be a hive of activity as Cherry Pop records released a special edition CD of Jaki’s 1986 album Breaking Away. In addition to the original 12 track album, 5 bonus tracks were added, 3 of which were exclusive to this release. The summer of 2010 also saw Jaki accompany Michael McDonald and Al Green on their UK Legends Arena Tour which included Birmingham LG, Manchester MEN and London’s O2 Arena, as Michael’s Special Guest. Jaki was invited to join Sir Cliff Richard on his successful Soulicious Arena Tour in October 2011, as his only British Special Guest alongside soul legends James Ingram, Percy Sledge, Freda Payne, Lamont Dozier and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr of Fifth Dimension, which is available on DVD, having been filmed across 2 nights at London’s O2 Arena.
As for 2012, Jaki had a busy year! SET ME FREE 2012 by DJ Paul Rudd feat. Jaki Graham, was released in May, having been approached to re-vocal the 1986 classic. Jaki was also finally back in the studio and finished recording her first, long awaited studio album in over 10 years. For Sentimental Reasons was released in October, giving Jaki the chance to pay homage to some of the classics she was herself brought up listening too, only this time with a more contemporary Jazz twist. This also tied in with Jaki being honoured on Birmingham’s Walk Of Stars joining the likes of Julie Walters, Ozzy Osbourne, Jasper Carrott, Bev Bevan and more.
Following her intimate ongoing For Sentimental Reasons UK tour in 2013, Jaki received an Honorary Doctorate in Music from Wolverhampton University in recognition of her Outstanding International Contribution to R&B, Soul and Dance. Her life represents so much to so many different people. Her story is an inspiration, showing what a disadvantaged black girl from a socially deprived background can achieve. Her resilience and strength of character in conquering prejudice and ignorance in her mixed race marriage gives hope and strength to people worldwide facing similar struggles. No matter where you’re from or what struggles you may have encountered, it is for this reason that Jaki has amassed a fan base from all walks of life. Her ability to become the conqueror rather than the victim makes her an attractive role model in a society whereby it seems so few remain. Her music embodies people with a positive energy and inner strength and her voice has united and embraced nations and cultures worldwide. Of all people, Jaki would be the one who would least see these special gifts in herself. In her own words ‘I’m nothing unique….
In a career spanning thirty years Toyah has had thirteen top 40 singles, recorded twenty albums, written two books, appeared in over forty stage plays, made ten feature films and presented such diverse television programmes as The Good Sex Guide Late, Watchdog and Songs Of Praise.
It all began in her hometown Birmingham in 1977 when film director Derek Jarman offered her the role of ‘Mad’ in seminal punk epic Jubilee. She continued to gain strong roles, appearing alongside Katherine Hepburn in the film, The Corn is Green, as well as playing ‘Monkey’ in the legendary Quadrophenia. She teamed up with Jarman again to play Miranda in his innovative version of The Tempest, which won her a nomination as Best Newcomer at the 1980 Evening Standard Awards.
By this time Toyah’s band was gaining critical success with the debut single Victims of the Riddle (no.1 in the independent charts) and six track EP Sheep Farming in Barnet. Her first album, The Blue Meaning, became a Top 40 hit. A TV Documentary “Toyah”, an accompanying live album Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! – as well as hit singles It’s A Mystery, I Want to Be Free, Brave New World and Be Proud, Be Loud, Be Heard plus the platinum albums Anthem and The Changeling – confirmed her status as one of the most significant talents of the Eighties. In 1982 she won the Best Female Singer at the Rock & Pop Awards.
Over the next two decades, as well as consolidating her reputation as a singer songwriter (with albums Minx, Desire, and her least commercial album Prostitute) Toyah also forged ahead with a career as a stage performer. Notable credits include Trafford Tanzi (lead); Cabaret (Sally Bowles); Three Men and a Horse (winner of Olivier Award for best New Comedy); the UK tour of Arthur Smith’s Live Bed Show; the title role in Calamity Jane (nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best Musical) and most recently starring as the Devil Queen in the hugely successful rock show, Vampires Rock.
Musically, the 90s saw Toyah transform from pop star to new wave diva. With her husband Robert Fripp she formed the band Sunday All Over the World, which toured world-wide. They recorded the album Kneeling at the Shrine which received rave reviews and Toyah went on to produce the critically-acclaimed albums Ophelia’s Shadow and Take the Leap!
The 90s also saw Toyah dominate our TV screens. Whether it be drama – as a dog, in the half animated real life drama series The Ink Thief with Richard O’ Brien or kid’s programming (Toyah found renewed cult status as the intro and outro voice of Teletubbies), or presenting an ‘Alternative Remedies’ series on This Morning, Toyah’s range and versatility was unrivalled. She recorded two series of the BBC’s popular Fasten Your Seatbelt, two series of the BBC Scotland’s kid’s drama series Barmy Aunt Boomerang, fronted her own BBC1 series Discovering Eve and was a regular presenter on Watchdog, The Heaven & Earth Show and Holiday. She also presented Anything Goes, Time Off. The Magic & Mystery Show and Roll With It! In 1996, whilst Toyah was making the film Julie and The Cadillacs, Michael Aspel surprised her as the subject of BBC1’s This Is Your Life.
The year 2000 saw the publication of her long awaited autobiography Living Out Loud and in 2001 Toyah was awarded a prestigious Honorary Doctorate by the University of Central England in recognition of her distinguished achievements in performing arts, media and broadcasting. Television continued to feature as she fronted forty programmes of Beyond Medicine for the Discovery Channel and Whose Recipe is it Anyway? for the Carlton Food Network. Carlton Television also made a documentary on Toyah’s music career as part of the Rock Legends series. Toyah also participated in the 2003Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and most recently appeared in ITV2’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl as the mother of lead actress Billie Piper.
Toyah returned to song writing in 2002 with new material for a limited edition EP, Little Tears of Love and a one-off preview concert at Ronnie Scotts. In 2002 Toyah proved her staying power selling out eleven stadium gigs for the Here and Now Tour. In May 2003 she released a brand new mini-album Velvet Lined Shell on her own record label, Vertical Species Records, showcasing a darker, edgier direction. In 2004 she returned to her musical roots as part of The Best of the 80s Tour – a UK tour alongside fellow 80s hit-makers Nick Heyward, Curiosity Killed the Cat and Altered Images.
Musically, Toyah has remained fresh, uncompromising and ground-breaking. In 2007 she signed a new worldwide publishing deal with Zomba Music and released her first digital single – Latex Messiah (Viva La Rebel In You) from the 2008 album In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, written and produced in collaboration with Simon Darlow. Alongside this Toyah began a collaboration with Bill Rieflin (REM) and Chris Wong on the band project, The Humans. Described as “European experimental meets West Coast American grunge”, The Humans debut live performances took place in Estonia in 2007. Their debut album, We Are The Humans, was recorded in Seattle in 2008 and released in Estonia in May 2009 to coincide with the band’s return to play before the country’s president at Tartufest. It received a UK digital release in September 2009, along with a Humans’ single, These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.
The Humans marked their first ever like UK appearances with a series of warm-up concerts in the very intimate and beautiful surroundings of churches including St. Michael’s & All Angels’ Church and St. Anne’s Church, Worcester. These were followed up by dates across the UK, featuring special guest Robert Fripp playing live with the band. They appeared on the bill of acts invited to perform at The Roundhouse for the Helping Haiti fundraiser concert. Their UK tour culminated in a headline date at London’s Scala, yielding a 4-star, review from the Financial Times who concluded it was an “intriguing, often terrific, show” with “programmed beats, sinewy, rumbling rhythms, a kind of twisted funk”. The Humans’ forthcoming, second album Sugar Rush, which sees a further development of the band’s songs and sound will be released worldwide in winter 2010. The album features guest guitar on all tracks from Robert Fripp.
Toyah continues to be seen on film with her recently completed starring role in the British film Power of Three, a light-hearted feel-good comedy that follows the adventures of 3 friends who pool their strengths when the going gets tough. Additionally, the track Quicksilver by The Humans features prominently in the short film Marigolds. With new book projects and music releases in the pipeline and live concert dates scheduled for the year ahead, Toyah maintains her multi-faceted and vibrant career.
.and warm strong personality… ” The Times
Hazel O’ Connor has fast re-established herself as an artist and performer to be reckoned with. Her husky voice remains charged with passion and her enthusiasm, love of music, and wicked sense of humour, is ever present. Recently she received the accolade of her own star in the new Coventry Walk of Fame in England. Her own small version now sits alongside her Gold Discs and BAFTA’s
A Spring 2016 tour to sell out shows, earlier in this very special year, culminates in ‘Hazel Sings Breaking Glass Live’ which finds Hazel making her long awaited return to the West End stage to perform the whole soundtrack for the first time and which tours the UK in November and December.