Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Shea: It's My Time

Shea B&S Pic
Shea B&S Pic Shea B&S Pic Shea B&S Pic

I can’t take on any more interviews or reviews until I have cleared the backlog of stuff I already have in the can to write up. That’s what I told the B&S editor recently. Then he asked me to listen to a track from a UK soul singer who is new to me: Shea. While taking a break from slaving away at a hot keyboard, sipping a cup of my fave de-caff organic tea, I took a listen to Shea’s debut single, “Where Did You Go?”

OK boss, put in, I’m ready......Despite drowning in a sea of CDs to review and taped interviews to transcribe and write, I agreed to speak to this 28-year-old London singer-songwriter for one reason: Her voice. The material is fine. On a retro, British soul/jazz infused tip. The production is fine. The style and direction are fine. But her voice is far more than fine. She will go far with those pipes if there is any justice.

It is at this time of each year, we music writers look back at the best of the previous year and ahead to the next 12 months, and stick our neck on the block to predict which new artists are likely to “make it” in the year ahead. We usually call it “The Ones To Watch.” In the previous couple of years, without trying to sound in any way arrogant, most of my tips have come true.

i.e. I bigged up Lianne La Havas and introduced her music to the editor here, who agreed with me and gave her the cover of the mag; her very first cover anywhere in the world. Did you see her on The Hootenanny on BBC TV on New Year’s Eve. Fabulous. Doing well in the USA too and sells out gigs here in the UK. Her debut album got to number three I think it was, in the UK album chart. Just revealed as album of the year by i-Tunes. Told ya…………

Maverick Sabre was another of my tips, having interviewed him backstage at the V Festival. Almost a year before his debut CD was even finished; I predicted it would hit top spot in the UK chart. It actually got to number two, only kept off top spot by Whitney Houston’s death and re-issue of her albums that same week.

More recent tips from me have included rapper Mikill Pane - who just got signed to Mercury and will be huge in 2013. His debut CD “According To Miss Barclay,” will be a monster hit. Top 10 for sure, probably top five. Selah Sue from Belgium will go big time in the USA, and eventually over here. Fitz and the Tantrums from LA…. great live and great music on record, their debut single “Moneygrabber” got stacks of national UK radio airplay. Their debut album was supposed to be released in the UK, but got pulled back by the label, but they will break here sometime if the label gets behind them. I could go on about other Redley ‘ones to watch’……but I won’t. Apart from saying; Shea is in the top end of my short-list for 2013.
Her debut single “Where Did You Go,” drops on 3rd February and her album “Grey Skies and Rainbow Fingernails,” is due in April. I am privileged to have had a sneak preview of said album, well four of the cuts anyway, and it is going to be well worth waiting for. The single has a superb vocal and will make Shea many new friends. It works well to introduce the young lady to our ears. The tracks, “So High,” “It Should Be You,” and the fab “Making Lemonade,” are all potential singles to my ears too.

So who is Shea? (Shea is pronounced the same as Shay stadium, by the way.) Well, you may not know her name, but you have probably heard her voice already, as a featured vocalist on many, many dance and club tracks over the years. The 28-year-old Londoner has penned lyrics and sung on some fine tunes, hooking up with MJ Cole for the dance floor smash “Never Say Never.” She has been heard on tracks covering house, funky, soulful, deep, electro; afro beats, broken beats, drum n bass, 2 step, garage, 4 to the floor, UK Funky, and underground soul, jazz and funk. Phew!

Shea toured the clubs performing "Never Say Never" with Matt Cole and was warmly embraced by the dance music scene. She was in demand as a featured artist and a lyricist, working under the name of Shea Soul. She has worked with most of the UK's best known underground producers, including Toddla T, Shy FX, Donaeo and Swindle, Phil Asher, Zed Bias, Joey Negro and Mark Force aka Bugz In The Attic.

But her collaboration with Attacca Pesante produced the biggest underground hit: 'Make it Funky For Me', which Shea wrote and featured on, one of the founding hits of the UK Funky scene. But despite this success and loving every single note, word and second of her work on the dance scene, Shea yearned for more. Sometimes her efforts didn’t even get a credit on these tracks, and she was understandably disappointed.

So it was high time she came out of the shadows and, stepped into the spotlight in her own right. As Shea says, with the imminent release of her debut single and her own album: “It’s my time now.” Maybe we can say she has earned her shot at the front of the stage. Shea is a fighter and survivor perhaps. Raised as Shea Bryce on a rundown council estate in South London, as a mixed race child when that wasn’t easy according to her, in circumstances she says were “tricky.” An absent Jamaican father and brought up by an English mother of Irish descent.

As the oldest of four, and with two cousins living with them on and off, Shea often took on a maternal role from an early age, cooking, changing and feeding her baby siblings and cousins, and helping out as much as needed. The one constant in her young life to pull her though any difficulties was always MUSIC. Reggae, soul, jazz. There was always music playing in the family home and at the regular big house parties, where all the neighbours would gather. Shea found salvation in one artist back then, when she discovered Lauryn Hill. Then she knew exactly what she was going to do with her life…………..

She got into Brit School at 14, and spent two years there, but decided not to apply for the full course as she was already out there singing, recording and finding her own “fame.” At 16 she helped form an all-girl RnB group. After three years working hard, it just didn’t pan out but was a solid learning curve about the business; how to cope with different personalities and the perils of being a young female having to trust others.

Like sensational homegrown talent Lianne La Havas, Shea has created her own sound. Yeah, her debut single is probably gonna get Amy/Ronson references (no bad thing, eh?) and there might be mention of Corinne Bailey Rae. Hers is a soul, jazz stew with a retro swing thing at its core. But it is her. It’s Shea. I hear a wee smidgeon of the wonderful Janelle Monae and a maybe a tad Amy’s Goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield in places. But Shea is being Shea, for sure.

When she was a kid she watched the video of the musical Bugsy Malone with the all-child cast, over and over and wanted to be Jessica Rabbit or Betty Boop, singing in a smoky jazz club. She adored Whitney H and Mariah C as a youngster, but it was Lauryn Hill’s music that put her on the right path, and also made her realise her efforts to disguise her natural afro hair style that she hated, were not necessary. So she embraced her natural self, much like Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill and indeed Lianne La Havas have done.

Shea explains: “It is a massive big thing for me, this album. But the stuff I have done so far as a featured artist I have felt has been so me, and being able to perform it too has been a big thing. I have never done anything I didn’t like or didn’t want to do. But this album is so personal and exactly how I wanted it to be.”

“The whole idea of that stage singer like in Bugsy Malone, attracted me to music, but as I got older and was listening to different artists, I wanted to be like them. When I was younger, I assumed that if you were a singer then that automatically means you are some kind of star, but as you get older you realise that it doesn’t work that way.”

“Yeah, I would say perhaps I am more known as a voice than a name that a lot of people would know. It can be frustrating when there is a song I have done that I really love and I am proud of, and I never get a mention that I wrote the lyric or sang it. I want people to know it is me and who I am, but at the same time, being able to work with the people I have worked with has been really great.”

So is it now Shea’s time? “Yes it is definitely my time. The time had come for me to do what I started out wanting to do, which is my own style. With this album I have been part of everything from the beginning. A lot of time on the dance tracks, I am given a beat to put something on the top of, so I’d be adding my bit to someone else’s style. But this has been all about me from the start, and very personal.”

Shea has cut 20 tracks and now has the difficult task of choosing which ones will make the final track list. “I need to take some out and I don’t want to. I’d love to make it 18 tracks, but I am told that is too many! I think they will all get out there in different ways. I want everyone to hear all of it.” The album will be released in Japan on the JVC label, where she has toured after successful collaborations including with producer DJ Kawasaki and hip hop collective Gagle and Ovall.
So what lessons has Shea learned to stand her in good stead, as and when things really take off for her with her own album? “I feel like I am learning all the time, like I don’t know the answers to anything. Constantly kind of walking in the dark. Everytime I think I know something I get proven wrong. Only thing I know is you just have to keep going and there’s always another corner, so I am gonna keep going.”

“I have been insecure and thought; what if people aren’t into it. But I’m not doing that any more because I’m trusting myself…I’m really liking it and running with it.” So who is Shea the person? “I’m just Shea. Like every other girl, I’m just normal and I’m not trying to be anything apart from what I am. One word to sum me up: REAL.”

My time with her for this interview gave me the impression of a very bright, switched on woman with heaps of raw talent who knows her own mind, and puts the music first. Not at all driven by fame and stardom for fame’s sake. Not just a singer either, but someone striving to be an all round artist – and one who knows she still has a lot to learn, and is prepared to listen. Yeah, I’d say Shea is real alright.

So, what was the inspiration for the debut single, “Where Did You Go?” “It’s about having somebody who you think you know, and you don’t and they leave you. That feeling of being left behind, and losing somebody generally. A lot of people have said ‘oh my gosh, this is about me.’”

Shea has written the lyrics to all her album cuts, co-wrote the superbly infectious “Making Lemonade,” and worked alongside Drew Horley, the producer and multi-instrumentalist behind Brit’ rapper Ty’s Mercury-nominated album “Awkward.” She and he certainly know how vital a strong hook is - bet you hum the chorus of the first single after just one listen!

Her over-riding thought when penning her songs, is for people to get the sentiment that everyone is worth a dream. Go for it. No matter who you are, your background or how low your own self-esteem is. Have a go. Make it happen. Or at least try. "I have grown up around people who don’t have a lot and they think; ‘yeah, but we can’t do this, what’s the point? It’s not going to happen for me.’ I think that’s crap and it is really important to think you can do it, because you are worth it and to have the confidence to believe in yourself. You are always worth the dream.”

One thing that I think sets Shea apart from many other wannabe artists is; her strong work ethic and her belief that you have to work hard, pay your dues, earn success and don’t expect it on a plate. She’s a grafter, having worked in bars, silver service waitressing, filling sandwiches, working with children and adults with special needs and disabilities while trying to make it as a singer and songwriter.

She’s has even appeared on TV as an extra in Casualty, The Bill and one job she doesn’t care to remember; where she had to stand in a long queue as a clubber, wearing a “tiny little outfit” in the pouring rain for hours, while they filmed the scene over and over.

Methinks it will not be Shea left out in the cold any more, but her fans waiting to hear a batch of her hits before too long. That is if she gets the right support and a large dose of good luck……………

Shea’s debut single is out on 3rd February on ThisIsArea7 ...Check out the excellent video for: Where Did You Go

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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