Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Don-E: E's Back!


Unanimously acknowledged as one of the UK’s most gifted and enduring soul music talents, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Don-e this month returns with his fifth album “Little Star”. Whose release is currently being pioneered by the irrepressibly-surging offshoot single “Spiritual”, which for the first time ever features seven of the UK’s veteran male soul vocalists together on one track - Leee John of Imagination; Junior Giscombe; Carl McIntosh of Loose Ends; Omar; Paul Johnson; Noel McKoy; and Rick Clarke.

Born Donald McClean in Brixton, South London, church-raised Don first became drawn to his parents’ collection of gospel and classic soul following his pastor father’s gift of a home-made guitar on his fifth birthday. Following which he would later soak up the influences of funk, reggae, jazz and pop before initially breaking on to the British music scene in 1992 as a 19-year-old new singing to Island Records - for whom his debut album “Unbreakable” spawned the uplifting UK Top 20 hit “Love Makes The World Go Round”.

Nevertheless, with his sophomore set - 1995’s “Changing Seasons” - faring notably less well, the mid/late-Nineties would find McClean parting ways with Island and hooking up with former Jamiroquai member Stuart Zender to form the short-lived duo Azure (who were briefly signed to US neo-soul icon D’Angelo’s label) while also writing and producing for other artists like The Sugababes, Beverley Knight and Mica Paris. All of which would in turn precede Don-e’s return to the scene as a solo artist in 2005 after hooking up with his current label-home - UK soul independent Dome - to release his third solo album “Try This”, which was in turn followed-up by 2008’s well-received “Natural”.

… Which conveniently brings us back to today and this month’s release of Don’s self-produced third album for Dome - the aforementioned “Little Star”. Whose standout tracks include an uptempo house cover of “Slave To The Rhythm” - originally a1985 hit for left-field funk/dance diva Grace Jones, in whose band he now regularly tours and plays - plus a soulful slow-jam update of late reggae legend Dennis Brown’s “Love Will Find A Way”. While its 12 new songs (all of which are self-penned) range from the hypnotic street-soul vibe of the title-track and the Leroy Hutson-influenced, rare groove feel of the lilting “Hold On” to the punchy, Ty-featuring “BS” and irresistibly-pounding, catchy “Hot Like The Summer”.

… Cue and ever-affable and down-to-earth Don-e meeting up with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis in his West London studio…

Don-e’s views on his new album “Little Star”

“With this album I’m really kinda showing the different sides of soul that have influenced me. Like sometimes I get a bit Marvin, sometimes I get a bit rare groove-y, other times I’m listening to the house guys like Josh Milan and Blaze... And in terms of the overall feel, I guess my main aim was for it to be DANCEY. Because though a lot of people associate Don-e with slow-jams like “Unbreakable” and “Try This” - which is all cool - at the same time one of my favourite Michael Jackson albums, for example, is “Off The WALL”, because you can dance to almost every TRACK… So yeah, for “Little Star” I definitely wanted that feel-good factor. Plus with me recently having come out of a crazy relationship that had lasted for years, what I’ve discovered is that, though before I was writing really sweet/lovey-dovey stuff, it’s only after you get your heart broken and ripped out and stamped on that proper LYRICS start coming your way! So while I did definitely want to keep the overall vibe of “Little Star” happy and uplifting, at the same time you have got songs where I’m talking about real-life things that I’m sure EVERYBODY feels at some time or another. Like “Incompatible”, where I’m basically saying ‘Even though we were in this relationship I knew you had to go’… You know, it’s basically dealing with that stuff that goes on in your head that you don’t actually SAY to people.”

With “Little Star” featuring his house update of her 1985 hit “Slave To The Rhythm”, Don-e’s experiences of touring as a regular member of Grace Jones’ band…

“I just call her ‘Amazing Grace’, because she’s just UNBELIEVABLE! Like after each show we have the after-party with the drinks and the oysters, and while we’re always knackered - and we’re just the BAND - Grace is still STANDING! You know, she’s always the last one to go to SLEEP! So we’re like ‘WOW! How does she DO it?!’! … I mean, I actually first met Grace through The Duke of Wimborne who worked on my first album. He basically just called me up one day and said ‘I’m hanging with Grace at the moment. We really wanna put a band together so she can go back out there and do some of her old stuff. Do you wanna come and meet her tonight?’… So I met her, and though I was expecting this ferocious woman, she was actually really sweet and really COOL! She was like ‘I’m cooking dinner for you tonight’! So she cooked me curry goat and rice, and from us just talking that evening I ended up not only being in the band myself but also bringing in my brother who plays drums, my friend Malcolm Joseph who plays bass, the two girls who’d been doing backing vocals on my shows... So yeah, I guess I’ve now been with her for about seven YEARS - which has been a really great experience and I have learnt a LOT!... You know it’s like a whole ‘nother WORLD working with Grace Jones!”

The album “Little Star” is released July 29. The single “Spiritual (Featuring Carl McIntosh, Junior Giscombe, Leee John, Noel McKoy, Omar, Paul Johnson and Rick Clarke)” is out now, both through Dome.


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