Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Rebecca Ferguson: All inclusive Holiday

Rebecca Ferguson
Rebecca Ferguson Rebecca Ferguson Rebecca Ferguson Rebecca Ferguson

Known internationally for her authentically-soulful, brooding vocals that originally saw her finish runner-up in the 2010 series of high-profile UK TV talent show “The X-Factor”, 28-year-old Liverpool-born-and-raised singer/songwriter Rebecca Ferguson this month releases her highly-anticipated third album “Lady Sings The Blues”. Which, as the follow-up to both her 2011-released million-selling debut LP “Heaven” and Gold-selling 2013 sophomore set “Freedom”, interestingly finds her reinterpreting songs made famous by jazz legend Billie Holiday while making specific reference to Holiday’s original 1956 album “Lady Sings The Blues” - a bona fide musical landmark which in 1972 led to the Oscar-nominated, multi-award-winning biographical film and record of the same name starring Diana Ross.

Indeed, released to mark 100 years after Holiday’s birth, Rebecca’s “Lady Sings The Blues” was prestigiously recorded at the iconic Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, California under the auspices of noted producer Troy Miller (of Chaka Kahn/Amy Winehouse/Rumer notoriety). Its musical moods ranging from the upbeat, skipping jazz groove of offshoot single “Get Happy” and springy bounce of the horn-led “My Man” to the cinematic orchestration and honking sax of “Summertime” and bluesy ballad vibe of “Old Devil Called Love”.

All of which in turn makes for an impressive third release from qualified-legal-secretary Rebecca. Whose aforementioned debut album “Heaven”, in addition to securing Double-Platinum status in the UK, also went on to attain bona fide global chart success, including a highly impressive Top Three placing in the US R&B chart - all ultimately resulting in prestigious nominations in both the MTV Europe and Soul Train Music Awards.

… Which brings us neatly back to today. As, despite her raw-but-stunning first audition on “X-Factor” singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” four-and-a-bit years ago revealing Rebecca as the painfully shy, woefully under-confident mother-of-two she was at the time, today it’s nevertheless a bubbly and chatty - yet still likeably-humble and “normal” - Ms. Ferguson who meets up with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for lunchtime drinks at her publicist’s buzzing Kensington offices. Where she happily discusses - in soft-spoken, still-instantly-recognisable Liverpudlian tones - such interesting topics as the story behind making “Lady Sings The Blues”; the significance of Billie Holiday to her as both a person and artist; plus how she now looks back on her time on “The X-Factor”.

The significance of Billie Holiday as a person and an artist to Rebecca herself

“I think the main importance to me really is that though Billie Holiday had such a hard life, at the same time she was a tough Harlem woman who, when she got on that stage and delivered those songs, became someone I could actually relate to in so many WAYS. Like though our lives are really contrasting, at the same time I can really empathise with her strength as a WOMAN. Which is why, though when I watched the “Lady Sings The Blues” film I did feel there was a lot of focus on her drug addiction, I actually really wanted to get AWAY from that and start people thinking about the actual PERSON she was. Which was a witty, strong Harlem woman who broke a lot of doors down for so many singers who came after her - me included - to be listened to and to be INDIVIDUAL… So yeah, though the whole project did start off with me actually being asked to do it, as time went on I really did fall in LOVE with her. Like I was just watching her perform the other night, and it’s like every single word she sang she MEANT. Because while she didn’t even move around - onstage she pretty much stood still - it’s like EVERY SINGLE EXPRESSION is saying ‘I MEAN this!’… So yeah, I just find her really INSPIRING - which is why I feel very blessed and lucky that I’ve been asked to do an album of her MUSIC.”

The whole experience of actually recording “Lady Sings The Blues” at the legendary Capitol Studios in Los Angeles with seasoned American jazz musicians

“It was AMAZING! I mean, I think the importance of us recording there was firstly because BILLIE had recorded there - as had a LOT of the huge jazz stars of that day - and secondly because a lot of the world’s best jazz musicians are based in America, PERIOD. Which is why we used some of the musicians that had been in Ray Charles’ band, Frank Sinatra’s band, Tony Bennett’s band... You know, because I’d said ‘Gotta be the best’ I just think Sony wanted to make sure that I was getting the best MUSICIANS. I mean, a lot of these guys were like nearly 80 years of age - proper old skool jazz heads - and so, while I’m normally very opinionated when I’m recording, what I actually found was that when I went into that booth in Capitol Studios, because those guys were just so talented when I got told to do something - though I was opinionated to a point - overall I pretty much did it STRAIGHTAWAY! You know, it’s like they eat/sleep/live JAZZ. And so to have them on board was just INCREDIBLE.”

Rebecca’s thoughts - as an already-successful singer/songwriter - on recording an album made up entirely of other people’s songs made famous by another artist

“Do you know what? I was actually quite OPEN to it all! Because though l’d always previously said ‘I’m not into covering other people’s music’, what I discovered when I actually looked into the history of these great singers of that time like Frank Sinatra Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday - I could go on and on - was that most of the time they didn’t actually sing their own SONGS. Instead what would usually happen was these brilliant writers would come to them and say ‘We’ve got this amazing song- do you want to SING IT?’. Which is why for this album I was more kinda like ‘Well, who am I to say that I don’t wanna sing other people’s songs when so many people who went before me who had these amazing voices actually built their career and talent on singing classic songs composed by other PEOPLE?’… So yeah, with “Lady Sings The Blues” I was a lot more humble and a lot more chilled about the whole thing. You know, I was more like ‘You know what? It’s good music so I’ll DO it!’.”

With her hometown of Liverpool having, over the decades, proven to be such a hotbed of musical talent, whether Rebecca feels growing up in the city itself helps cultivate an interest in singing?

“Yeah, I do actually. I mean, in Liverpool everybody wants to be a singer, a dancer, a footballer, a wag... You know, there’s a certain AMBITION in Liverpool - and music does play a big part IN that. Plus it’s also naturally a very TALENTED city. Which I think - with Liverpool having been a big port - may be down to all the different CULTURAL influences there. I mean, I myself started singing seriously as early as 15! I took a job in a clothes shop, got paid £20 a day - and then used that money to pay for singing lessons in a private MUSIC school! So even at that age I was thinking to myself ‘Right, I need to start training myself for this dream’. Then, as I got a bit older, I started to pay for my own recording sessions with the money I was earning - and from there I started AUDITIONING for different things... And I do think part of that early ambition in me was due to the environment of the city I was growing UP in.”


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To read more from our interview with Rebecca Ferguson, including her thoughts on her time on X Factor and life after the all consuming show…Pick up a copy of the latest Blues & Soul magazine at your local magazine retailer, inc; WH Smith, Menzies + selected Euro Foods, Cost Cutters and a plethora of independents everywhere… if they don't stock it, ask for a "B&S shop save" and they will get it for you.

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