Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Gabrielle: Dream Topping

Gabrielle Gabrielle Gabrielle Gabrielle

Having elected to retire from a career in music five years ago, 10-million-selling London soul/pop singer-songwriter Gabrielle nevertheless makes a welcome return to the spotlight this month with the release of “Now And Always: 20 Years Of Dreaming”. A double-CD set which - to mark 20 years since she debuted at Number One with her first single “Dreams” - combines all her big-selling singles (plus some popular remixes) of the past with seven totally-new songs, pioneered by the shuffling beats, strings and nagging piano refrain of its excellent offshoot single - the hauntingly-surging, broody break-up-themed “Say Goodbye”.

Indeed, boasting production input from such world-renowned contemporary studio names as the Grammy-winning Syience (Beyonce/Jay-Z)), Naughty Boy (Emeli Sande) and Paddy Byrne (Paloma Faith), other new tracks on “Now And Always...” range from the sassy Sixties-influenced stomper “Knew Me” and beats-backed ode to moving on “It Takes Time”, to the driving, acid-jazz-flavoured “Holding On For You” and even a cinematically string-laden, downtempo reworking-from-scratch (by Naughty Boy) of the aforementioned “Dreams”.

Born Louisa Gabrielle Bobb in East London’s Hackney, Gabrielle first shot to fame in 1993 with her aforementioned haunting Number One debut single “Dreams”. Which by debuting at Number Two not only broke records at the time as the highest chart entry a debut act had ever scored in the UK but also became a Top 30 US hit and preceded the release of Gabrielle’s Platinum-selling Top 10 debut LP “Find My Way”, which additionally spawned a further British Top 10 hit the same year with the punchy “Going Nowhere.”

Meanwhile, the arrival of Gabrielle’s Platinum-selling, self-titled sophomore album in 1996 would firmly cement her position as one of Britain’s most consistent hitmakers of the Nineties, providing three further Top 10 singles in the form of the Motown-inspired, enduring Top Five smash “Give Me A Little More Time” plus two covers - her Top Three duet with boy-band East 17 on the R&B-flavoured “If You Ever” (originally recorded by US quartet Shai in 1992 as “If Ever Fall In Love”) and her 1997-charting update of Burt Bacharach’s Sixties classic “Walk On By”.

Nevertheless, her biggest success to date would come following the 1999 release of her massive, quadruple-Platinum third LP “Rise” - with both the album and its inspirational title-track prestigiously going on to top the UK charts in early 2000, a year in which Gabrielle - whose unconventional image involving always covering her right-eye is due to her having ptosis, the drooping of one eyelid - would also score her eighth Top 10 single (the album’s first single “Sunshine” having hit Number Nine in autumn1999) with the breezily-melodic “When A Woman”.

All of which in turn would pave the way for the 2001 release of the equally-successful compilation album “Dreams Can Come True: Greatest Hits Vol. 1” - another four-times-Platinum seller which also contained the Top Five theme-song to the Renee Zellweger-starring blockbuster film “Bridget Jones’ Diary”, “Out Of Reach”, as well as its Top Ten follow-up “Don’t Need The Sun To Shine”. Following which Gabrielle would go on to release two further, less-celebrated albums - 2004’s Top Ten “Play To Win” and 2007’s Top 15 “Always” - before, in 2008, announcing her aforementioned retirement from a groundbreaking career that had in total seen her sell over 10 million records, score two Number One and ten Top 10 singles, plus also impressively pick up two BRIT Awards (1994 Best Newcomer; 1997 Best Female) and an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection along the way.

All of which in turn brings us back to today. As an always-friendly and ever-likeable Ms .Bobb (who recently guested on Naughty Boy’s star-studded Top Three LP “Hotel Cabana” on the sepia-tinged track “Hollywood”) reacquaints herself with the man who gave her one of her first-ever interviews way back in 1993 - “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis - over afternoon drinks at South London’s tucked-away Friendly Place to discuss her celebratory new album; her reasons for her retirement, and now return to, music; plus her memories of some of the highlights of her trailblazing, chart-topping career as a bona fide British soul pioneer.

PETE: Your new album “Now And Always…” finds you releasing new music for the first time in over six years. So what was the story behind you making a conscious decision to retire from a singing career back in 2008?

GABRIELLE: “Well basically, having spent so many years making music and having the success, the fact is there were times when it would take you away from your FAMILY, and as a mum I wanted to be at home for my CHILDREN. And so it got to a stage where certain things had happened and I was like ‘You know what? I’m actually ready to just leave it all BEHIND’. You know, though I do love making music I was ready to kind of let it all be about ME instead of being about record-company DEADLINES. I felt at the time that I’d sold enough records, I’d done enough interviews, I’d basically done everything that accompanies having a career that has some length to it... So yeah, it did get to that point where I was just happy to turn my BACK on it, because I felt I’d done it ALL. But clearly - though not making music and just being a mum did please me for a while - at the end of the day that wasn’t the CASE!”

PETE: So what was it that finally convinced you to return to making music full-time?

GABRIELLE: “Well, my kids were growing - like my son’s now 18 and just started at university - and then one day as a friend-of-a-friend I ended up just going to this recording-studio and meeting this producer called SYIENCE. And while I was there it suddenly struck me just how long it had been since I’d last recorded and how much I’d MISSED it! You know, I was looking at the girl in the booth and saying to myself ‘That’s somebody ELSE singing in there, that could be ME!’ - and because I loved the music they were making I suddenly just started vibing and singing to the TRACKS! So then from there I basically just found myself starting to go to the studio regularly again and working with Syience and just ENJOYING myself... And then next thing I know NAUGHTY Boy comes looking for me because he wants me to sing on his ALBUM! So because I loved the song he brought to me I agreed to DO it… And then what actually ended up happening was, because I hadn’t done any serious recording for so long, basically that session kind of just reignited the passion that I’d thought wasn’t actually THERE any more. You know, it was like I’d gone off, I’d spent my time away, and now it was my time AGAIN and things were starting to HAPPEN for me - and the fact I was now having the opportunity to work with all these different contemporary people like Syience and Naughty Boy suddenly just became so much FUN! Because although I’d been around for so long they were still able to accommodate me and my SOUND. Which is why I suddenly became so excited at the prospect of putting new MUSIC out… And so here I am TODAY!”

PETE: So how did you come up with the concept of “Now and Always: 20 Years Of Dreaming” - which combines seven completely-new songs with a collection of your earlier hits and popular remixes - and what are your ideas on how it’s turned out?

GABRIELLE: “Well, when I got signed to Island Records earlier this year (Island president) Darcus Beese was like ‘I love your new stuff but with “Dreams” being 20 years old how about we bring out a CELEBRATION album to celebrate the fact that you’re an artist that’s been around a while and is still making MUSIC?’. You know, basically his idea was instead of us just bringing completely new material, why not do an album that’s comprised of new stuff AND old stuff. So though at first I was scared - I was like ‘But I’ve done a ‘Greatest Hits’ ALREADY!’ - they were like ‘NO, this is to COMMEMORATE 20 YEARS!’. So then after I’d thought about it I was like ‘That’s actually quite COOL’ - and so that’s how “Now And Always…” was BORN! And when I did finally get to play the album through from beginning-to-end I actually felt really HAPPY! Because I wanted there to be a kinda harmonious thing where the NEW stuff would still be considered as good as the OLD stuff, and I think we’ve ACHIEVED that! Because together the songs sound like a marriage made in HEAVEN! Plus I’m also really pleased that for the new tracks I have been working with new people who are bringing a different sound to what I DO. Because in that way for me it’s almost like starting afresh but with the bonus that there are already a few people out there who know who I AM!”

PETE: So how do you now recall your initial breakthrough in 1993 with your then-record-breaking Number One debut single “Dreams”?

GABRIELLE: “PHENOMENAL! I mean, it was funny because while to those who hadn’t heard of me before - like the media, for example - I’d literally just come from nowhere, the real deal was that I’d already been singing “Dreams” in nightclubs for probably a year-and-a-HALF! And so when I finally got signed I think some of the people who’d known me from those days were a bit surprised that I was bringing it OUT! Because as far as they were concerned it had already been RELEASED, whereas in fact it had only just been available on white-LABEL. But while I do remember someone really depressing me saying ‘Why are you bringing it out AGAIN - everybody’s GOT it!’, what I of course DIDN’T know was how, once I’d been signed to a proper label and “Dreams” finally got a proper release, so many people would love it and go out in their droves to BUY it! You know, one minute I was singing this song I’d written a couple of years before in nightclubs and then suddenly I was on “Top Of The POPS”! And even though some people today are like ‘Aren’t you fed UP of singing “Dreams”?’, the fact is I NEVER get sick of it! Because while maybe sometimes people CAN get fed up of singing other people’s songs that have been written FOR them, the fact is I always had that extra BOND with “Dreams” in that it was about my life and about me wanting my MUSIC career to take off... So yeah, as I say, when it all kicked off it truly was incredible! It was like riding this amazing crest of a wave where I just seemed to be on this eternal high for AGES! And thankfully with me being in my twenties as opposed to say 16, I think I was at an age where I wasn’t PHASED by it at all. I was just able to enjoy it for what it WAS.”

PETE: And how do you now look back on the phenomenal success of your inspirationally-themed second chart-topper “Rise”, which impressively ended up as the UK’s fourteenth biggest-selling single of 2000?

GABRIELLE: “Oh, completely CRAZY! Because though we’d released “Sunshine” - which was about my son - as the first single and that had gone Top Ten, when we actually put out the “Rise” album it didn’t really DO anything at first. And I remember I had a new manager come in who was like ‘Oh, “Rise” is a cool song but I don’t think it’s really gonna be SUCCESSFUL’. But though I remember thinking ‘You’re a bit negative, aren’t you?’, nothing could have prepared me for the reception we’d get once we DID eventually decide to release it as a single! Because whereas back in ’93 “Dreams” had gone in at Number Two and THEN up to Number One, “Rise” went straight IN at Number One! And I do actually think that, because when I was doing the “Rise” album I was coming off the back of such a traumatic time in my life, the fact all my energy was focused on that particular record as a distraction and a way of being able to deal with those emotions was what helped it CONNECT with people. Because - without going into my life events back then - it was almost like a biography to accompany my life-story at that TIME. And with what I was going through having become big news, I think the fact I was able to open up and be vocal about it did TOUCH people. You know, the fact that I wasn’t shy in coming forward to talk about those particular aspects of my life I think did affect people on an emotional level because I wasn’t the ONLY one having a difficult time in life - people who WEREN’T on the TV were going through bad things too. I mean, since then I’ve had people come to the shows saying ‘Oh, at the time you wrote that song it helped me through a divorce’ or ‘it helped me through a separation’ or ‘it helped me through a loss’... And I have to say that to actually go out there, sing it and then have people tell me how incredible that song was for them because it enabled them to move on from something bad to the next phase in their life really is an incredible FEELING.”

The album “Now And Always: 20 Years Of Dreaming” and the single “Say Goodbye” are both out now through Island.

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