M People’s Heather Small is one of the most recognisable voices of ‘90s Britain, nabbing the Best British Dance Act Award at the BRITs in 1994 and 1995 as well as the Mercury Music Prize for the album Elegant Slumming in 1994, writes Laura Burgoine…
Now, the songstress is coming to Greenwich for the Electric Soul Festival, performing much-loved numbers Moving On Up, One Night In Heaven, and Search For The Hero as well as music from her solo career including her iconic single Proud, which soundtracked a host of special events at the London 2012 Olympics.
“I’m looking forward to it, particularly under these circumstances with my band and under my own name,” Heather told the Weekender. “The festival has such an eclectic mix of people. I’m honoured to be in the line-up. Everyone’s definitely worth seeing.”
The one-day festival for soul lovers is being hosted by legendary DJ Trevor Nelson, and features Heather alongside two of the biggest ever bastions of British bass music: Level 42, and The Brand New Heavies. The line-up also boasts post-Disco hitmakers Kool & The Gang, direct from the USA.
“When someone’s on before me, I’m so nervous I can’t watch; it’s a nightmare,” Heather said. “When I’m at the sweet end, I’ll watch the other bands after.”
As well as the live musical acts, the Electric Soul Festival features record shops, food stalls, and live DJs around The O2, as the entire venue is taken over for the UK’s biggest funk and soul festival.
“You want to do your best. I don’t want to let myself down or anyone else down,” Heather said. “I’m not happy if I don’t meet my own standards.”
“Money is hard to come by. If people have chosen to spend their money on coming to see me, I want to make sure it’s worth it,” she said. “When I’m onstage, I own the stage. I get my mic, I start playing. I haven’t gone on tour or done live shows for a while though. The only way to get over stage fright is to get back on stage!”
Heather is embarking on a tour before the festival. “Everything is a build up to doing great live performances and I do love it,” she said. “On stage there’s seven of us and we sound like 70. It’s just pumping. There’s a drive, there’s an energy.”
The singer has enjoyed over two decades in the music biz. “I’m still happy to go on stage and that’s a blessing that I can still find that joy,” she said. “25 years. It’s gone fast. In that time, I’ve also entered into motherhood. I think for myself the best thing is I can still sing, and I still enjoy it,” she said. “I have songs now that people want to hear me sing. I always used to watch Shirley Bassey, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin and I’d imagine what it would feel like to have a song where you sing the first few bars and people cheered. For me that song is Proud.”
“You can’t be tired or blasé. I never am. Proud is a song that I co-wrote. I could never treat it with disrespect. It’s a real privilege.”
When Heather started out singing, her main ambition was to continue singing. “I sang with Tom Jones; he’s amazing, such a voice and a lovely man inside and out. I’ve sung with Sting. I’ve performed at Glastonbury, I played at Manchester stadium. There’s lots of things that have made me give thanks for singing. And it does continue, there’s always something to look forward to.”
“I’ve never played with my band at the O2. That’s why I keep singing. It’s something I feel deeply that gives me joy.”
Heather is performing at Electric Soul Festival is at the O2,
Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX, on Saturday 7 September from 4pm-11pm.
Admission: £65, £80, £90 with limited number of VIP at £145.