Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

DON-E: Right down to the letter

Don-E
Don-E Don-E

Unanimously acknowledged as one of the UKâs most gifted and enduring urban music talents, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Don-e this month returns with his fourth album, the appropriately-titled âNaturalâ.

Having initially broken onto the British music scene in 1992 as a much-hyped new signing to Island Records (resulting in the Top 20 hit âLove Makes The World Go Roundâ), soul survivor Donnie Mclean has spent recent years focusing mainly on writing and producing for other artists (Mica Paris/Beverley Knight/Rahsaan Patterson, etc) while also touring and playing regularly with legendary left-field funk/dance diva Grace Jones.

Originally becoming hooked on music following his pastor fatherâs gift of a home-made guitar on his fifth birthday, the church-raised South Londoner first became drawn to his parentsâ collection of gospel and classic soul, before later also taking in the influences of funk, reggae, jazz and pop. All of which can be heard in the consistent quality grooves of his latest set. Which boasts vocal duets with Sugababe Keisha Buchanan; ex-Sugababe Mutya Buena (Don produced said girl trioâs first-ever demos); plus Brit-R&B songstress Kele Le Roc. While the darkly-hypnotic âSo Coldâ features a keyboard cameo from US neo-soul icon DâAngelo.

An affable, down-to-earth Don-e hooks up with âB&Sâ from his Brixton-based Funk Cave studio.

His new, fourth LP âNaturalâ

âMusically, because Iâve been away from the market-place for quite a while, this time I wanted to show people some different Don-e styles and some different areas Iâll go into. Listening to the radio, I noticed the kinda music I grew up on - which I always thought was great - just wasnât around any more. So, because of that, tracks like âStay A Whileâ - which is based off that old rare groove feel - are harking back to the era of singers like OâBryan, whose stuff Iâve always loved. But then, because Iâm also influenced by the new Timbaland/Justin Timberlake kinda thing, a song like âAddictive Luvâ does lean more towards THAT side of things. So basically I was trying to capture a bunch of different vibes - mixing the good stuff of the Seventies and Eighties with the sonics of the 21st century. While lyrically, because over the years people have always said my voice is really geared towards that crooner-type vibe, I just decided to keep on writing music for lovers!â

The story behind âSo Coldâ - the track which features DâAngelo on Rhodes

âWell, Stuart Zender (formerly of Jamiroquai) and I hooked up under the name Azure back in the late Nineties, and ended up getting signed as a duo to DâAngeloâs label. And we happened to be recording the song âSo Coldâ while DâAngelo was in London back in 1998. So, as he was in town and we were signed to his label, he came down to the studio, heard the track and ended up putting down the Fender Rhodes that you hear on it now. Then - to cut a long story short - we ended up falling out with the label, went our separate ways, and forgot all about it... Until suddenly, a few years back, my sister called me up, played me the track down the phone, and said âIs this you?â. So I was like âYeah, thatâs the demo I gave you back in â98 to listen to!â... She said âWell, I just bought this new DâAngelo album and itâs Track 4 on there!â⦠So I checked the album out, and it turned out to be a bootleg! And, because I was a bit peeved to say the least, I thought âWell, its time to reclaim the tune!â - and got straight onto my legal! From there I played the song to my record company Dome, who were like âWeâve gotta put this on your next record!â!. So I thought âYeah, it WOULD be quite good to have a Don-e Featuring DâAngelo track, wouldnât it?!â⦠And so thatâs how âSo Coldâ came to be on my new album!â

Looking back at his short-lived early-Nineties deal with Island Records

âIt was a bit of whirlwind, âcause one minute youâre nothing - and then the next youâve got a record deal, youâre doing videos and youâre flying all over the world! You know, itâs all happening⦠And then, all of sudden, it STOPS! So yeah, it was a really strange time, but also a really exciting one. I kind of look back on it as going to music college, where youâre learning all the doâs and donâtâs and meeting all these different types of industry-people. But, while it was definitely a bit of a learning curve for me, at the same time for a while it did leave me despondent. For a year or so I just went off and was like âOh, forget all this! Itâs madness!â. But at the same time, luckily, I wasnât just a singer. So, in my Nineties wilderness years, I was able to play on a lotta sessions as well as get heavily into the whole songwriting thing. Which in turn has over the years enabled me to work with so many great people - like Mica Paris, Sean Escoffrey... Though my ultimate session was definitely sitting in with Omar and Stevie Wonder! You know, as a boy Iâd sit and listen to the radio at night. And, when tunes like âMy Cherie Amourâ or âLatelyâ would come on, I used to picture all this stuff in my head and imagine how those songs were recorded. So then, to be in the studio 10/20 years later sitting next to Stevie Wonder himself, watching him make a tune almost from scratch was really amazing!â

The album 'Natural' is out now. The digital single âAddictive Luvâ follows September 8, both through Atomic Dread Productions/Dome
Words PETE LEWIS

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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