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Issue 1084

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Ruby Turner: Fame's not the Turner Prize

Ruby Turner @bluesandsoul.com
Ruby Turner @bluesandsoul.com Ruby Turner @bluesandsoul.com Ruby Turner @bluesandsoul.com Ruby Turner 10 years ago (you'd never know) @bluesandsoul.com

When Ruby Turner is jetting off to yet another country, to front Jools Hollandâs celebrated Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with an audience of thousands. Sat in flash limousines. Staying in five star hotels. Singing the national Anthem to the Queen and the PM⦠She may sometimes wonder just how the heck she got here. Not quite what the excited little Jamaican girl of nine-years-old would expect, when sat on a âplane accompanied only by a stewardess - Ruby wearing a name tag on her coat - to join her mother in England, and start a brand new life.

Her subsequent success and good fortune; a complete contrast to the days of shivering in freezing cold Transit vans, broken down cars and motorway service stations at 3am. When she and her band didnât even have enough money to pay for a B&B. Often not getting paid for gigs they did. But Ruby had a real calling to sing and to perform. Not only did she make it big, hitting the charts in the UK and the USA, and even selling out Hammersmith Odeon, Ms Turner had the tenacity to sustain that career for several decades.

Now in the spotlight with Jools and his musical cohorts, plus her own band and headline gigs. Her own record label, and steering her own career, Ruby is comfortable and relaxed with where she is now. But with indelible memory of the years where she was âignored,â but refused to give up.

Today she is rightfully acknowledged as one of the best voices Britain has ever produced. Often branded a ânational treasureâ and âsoul legend.â So with all that success and adulation, is she a Diva? Perhaps I can answer that, with first hand experience⦠How many Divas do you know, would refuse to allow an old hack like me to pay for drinks or lunch, going up to the bar herself to order. Or insisting on giving me a lift to the railway station. Then emailing to check I got back OK, and thanking me for my time! A genuinely down- to-earth star - rarer than an MP refusing expenses.

So. Saturday lunchtime. Ruby arrives in her black Audi and we meet in the car park of her local, a very nice chain pub-eaterie in a rural suburb of Birmingham. We wander to the adjacent canal tow path to do the photographs first. Ruby tells me she actually walks this very path most weekends, if she is not working - on a 4 to 5 mile walk.

After chatting to a family on a narrow-boat and then a guy on a passing craft, we go to the pub for a bite to eat. I offer to get the drinks. âYou are my guest and I am paying, so sit down,â she says firmly. I do as I am told, while overhearing laughter at the bar, where Ruby has told the staff - who obviously recognised a star in their bar - that I am a journalist and photographer. But not to worry; âHeâs not from the News of the World.â Over she comes with the drinks. âCheers Ruby.â

We chat over our food. Covering a lot of ground about her career, past and present. Her family. Her private life. Future plans. She comes across as genuinely modest about her achievements. At the same time accepting she has big talent, and perhaps justifying the rewards, with the knowledge that she has grafted for it. Ruby admits she is âquite humbleâ by nature and âwell grounded.â

âI do sometimes forget some of the stuff I have done over the years, when journalists or fans tell me stuff I have done. I am focused on getting things done today. Not on yesterday. I love being busy. â

âI have never had an appetite for fame. Ever. I have an appetite for the music. That is what drives me, not fame. In the early years, I was surrounded by opinions, and I thought it wise to listen to opinions, but you get people saying to your face; you have never done what you should have done, or quite got to where you deserve to have got to in your career. â

âI now get nervous when people offer an opinion on me. Everyone thinks they know what is best for you and your career. I feel that what is ordained is ordained. But I am sure in my genetic make-up is the music. I carry it with me, and have done since I was very young. I sometimes think it would be nice if people had respect for your choice, and the choices you make for yourself. But you have to be gracious and have broad shoulders, to accept criticism, as well as praise.â

Sheâs certainly paid her dues. âI have been up and down this country in old transit vans. Sat in cold, broken down cars. Had no money. Not been paid for days. I have lived that life, so I appreciate what I have now, and where I am in my life now. â

âTravelling for hours, and sitting in motorway service stations because we did not have a hotel, as we could not afford one. They were hard days, but great days. No money, but it was full-on living. Great times. â

Ruby was discovered by blues legend Alexis Korner. She then toured the US with Culture Club before scoring big hits with: 'If Youâre Ready (Come Go With Me)', 'Iâd rather Go Blind' and US Number 1, 'Itâs Gonna Be Alright.' Between 1986 and 1995, she had eight singles in the UK charts, and three chart albums. It is now 25 years since her debut smash hit album 'Women Hold Up Half The Sky.' She has 14 albums, and is on Live at Glastonbury, guest spots on various stars albums, including a cracking duet with Seasick Steve on his current CD. Ruby has sung with UB40, Culture Club, Jagger, Winwood, Ferry and many others. Legends such as The Four Tops, The Temptations Jimmy Ruffin and Jonathan Butler have sung on her records.

Before we get on to Rubyâs personal life, I take a few more shots of her at the table. She gets slightly irritated that we have not finished the photographs yet. An elderly couple at the next table hear Ruby âhaving words.â The grey-haired lady taps Ruby on the shoulder and says: âThat is just typical of a man. My husband does that all the time to me, just like yours, and has done for 40 years. You have more of it to come, my dear.â I grin. Ruby looks horrified that they think I am her husband! I laugh. Then her head went back and that dirty belly laugh was emitted, as she eventually saw the funny side. (I teasingly kept calling her âdarlingâ and âhoneyâ very loudly, to smiles from the next table. and glares from RT!)

Ruby revealed she has been engaged twice, lived with a guy for 4 years and it got close to marriage. He wanted her to move to Canada with him, but she refused to quit her career here. âMany women I know, must have a man in their life. They seem programmed to find a man and must get married. Marriage is a priority for them. Not for me. I am not built that way. I have never felt I had to have a man in my life, or have to end up married. My Mum had a tough life, with 6 kids, and maybe that put me off,â
âI have my faith, and I have good friends, a good career and both parents. I am so lucky and happy with my life right now.â She gives Blues & Soul readers a âWorld Exclusiveâ though. Revealing she is falling in love and spends every Monday night with her new found loveâ¦. Badminton! Yes. Soul star Ruby Turner has joined a club, plays Badminton, and loves it. âDonât ever ask me to do anything on a Monday night. I love it. I joined a club and wear the tee shirt. I am really getting into âBaddersâ as we call it, but I tend to swat it more than hit it,â she laughed.

When I pressed her about when her parents separated, and what affect that had on her, she was not willing to talk about it. Batting away my probe with; âOh, thatâs an old story.â Her father, 76 lives in the USA. Her 71-year-old Mother Violetta, lives local to Ruby in Birmingham, and sang a duet with her daughter on her last CD, 'Iâm Travelinâ On,' in September â09. She smoothly changes the subject. âI just want to be happy in all I do. It has been a battle getting here. I have had to work for this. It was not given to me on a plate. I am hardly an overnight success. (She laughs out loud.) As the Captain of my own ship, I now choose the best seas and the best islands to visit. I have done the rough seas.â

Aside from her music, Ruby is an accomplished TV, film and theatre actress. She has won several awards, including a lifetime achievement accolade. She narrated the recent BBC Radio 2 documentary on gospel star Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and the BBC TV docâ 'Reggae Britannia.'

It concluded that reggae music has had its day. A statement that really perturbed Ruby, so almost in defiance and to prove a point, she went into the studio to re-record the reggae track 'Leaves In The Wind,' which she co-wrote for her 1989 album 'Paradise.' âWhen I did the reggae documentary, that music took me back to my childhood, and back to Jamaica and Handsworth, Birmingham. It was the musical soundtrack of my life. Part of me. Music uniting communities. Reggae is my heritage â from my island.â Ruby put the song into her set for a string of sold out Ronnie Scottsâ club gigs, and got a great reaction. So she went with her instincts to re-record it with her band, a more stripped down, less produced version and get it out fast, as it has a real âupâ summer vibe. So does she see herself as a singer who acts, or an actress who sings? âLife is a challenge, and I like to challenge myself in all I do. To try things that I feel are in me. Keeps life interesting, which stops me being bored. Mix it up a little. Singing. Actingâ¦.I am happy doing all of them. â

âIn America, you have to be an all-rounder and be able to sing, act, dance. Not be one- dimensional. Here in this country, if you keep three balls in the air at the same time, some say: âOh, look at you being clever.â Instead of celebrating the fact you can do all these things. That can be disconcerting sometimes.â Rubyâs hit debut album and singles were marketed as though she was an American artist â many thought she was - and with slick production. She did her own US tour in 1990, and in Febâ 91 went to number one in the USA. But initial American success was not followed up by her record label. A crying shame. But, this writer feels she could still have major US success, with the right material and the right people in âTeam Turnerâsâ corner.

Adele and Leona Lewis have opened up the door. Like them, Ruby is the real deal and no manufactured, plastic pop Princess. Sheâs done it once, and she could do it again. But Ruby is content with her lot right now, and has a lot of admiration for Mr Hollandâs role in that. She appreciates the solid and mutually respectful relationship she has with Jools, and loves the shows she does with him, and recording with his orchestra. âI have worked with him since the early '90s on his records, but if youâd have told me then, that today Iâd be singing with his band and how big it would get, Iâd have said no way. Jools is a respected musician and a really decent man. I am honoured to be a part of that set up. It is also great fun, and he likes to stretch you and challenge you, and I like that. â

No longer relying on record labels or management, she is re-releasing her album 'Responsible' from 1993, previously only ever issued in New Zealand. The new single is being added to it. Re-mastered, re-packaged. Recorded in the UK with the band she took to NZ three times. She had a number one there and a sell out tour, doing 2 shows a night. The CD is slated for a September or October release.

Over a Caesar salad, chicken wings, and a few glasses of grapefruit juice, Ruby forgets the cold she has, and the few hours sleep she has had since the gig the night before. She recalls the moment she heard her new single played on BBC Radio 2 at midnight, on the drive home, and she seems genuinely excited it is getting airplay. She talks intently and sincerely of being grateful for her life and her career.

âI sat on a wall yesterday outside the hotel, trying to get a signal on my âphone, and over the road was a disabled parking bay. A man got out of his car with great difficulty on crutches, and really struggled. I had my cold and was feeling ill, but it put my troubles into perspective. Life is always full of little reminders of how lucky we all are, if we bother to look and take notice.â

*Ruby Turnerâs new single 'Leaves In The Wind' is available for download from iTunes and all major download sites. Ruby tours with Jools Hollandâs Rhythm and Blues Orchestra throughout the summer, and shows with her own band. Her website: www.rubyturner.com

All Photos: Simon Redley
Words SIMON REDLEY

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