Published: Tuesday 8th March 2016 by Tom Drinkall
Heather Small is best known as the lead singer of M People – a chart-topping group that has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide.
She takes to the stage at Hull City Hall on Wednesday, March 16 for what promises to be an unforgettable night of feel-good music.
Heather chats to HEY Today about, among other things, her upcoming Hull concert, her time as lead singer of M People and her battle with stage fright.
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.
Published: Tuesday 8th March 2016 by Tom Drinkall