Nick Churchill Chats to Carleen AndersonWritten by Nick Churchill
©Words Nick Churchill www.thegranvillechambers.co.uk
Her godfather was the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. Her mother is Brown’s explosive backing singer Vicki Anderson; her step-father, his right-hand man Bobby Byrd. She grew up with her grandparents during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and by the age of there was singing solos in her grandfather’s church.
Somehow the die was cast and Carleen Anderson caught her own chart action in 1991 fronting UK acid jazz trio Young Disciples, whose biggest hit Apparently Nothin’ remains a dancefloor filler.In the mid-90s she worked frequently with Paul Weller with whom she made the acclaimed album, Blessed Burden, including a memorable take on Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed. Since then she has recorded several albums in her own right, most notably the jazzy Alberta’s Granddaughter with its arresting cover version of Don’t Look Back In Anger and Soul Providence, which included a cover of the Jackson Five hit Wanna Be Where You Are. She continues to record and tour with her own band.
Earlier this year she starred in the Soul Caribbean performance that opened the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in the Olympic Park and with up and coming singer Zara McFarlane, musical director Kevin Robinson and compere Richard Blackwood is taking the show on tour. Each venue on the tour is recruiting a choir to join the performers on several numbers.
What attracted you to the Soul Caribbean show?
I was approached by the booking agency, Serious, to join Soul Caribbean, after my performance with Soul London Orchestra for the London Soul Festival in Walthamstow this past June. Honoured and surprised to be asked to sing for this organisation, as reggae music is outside what I instinctively know, I was told by the amazing musical director, Kevin Robinson, that my soulful interpretations are what interests them, which encouraged me to feel more suited for the challenge of singing this reggae/Caribbean style of music.
There is some incredible music in the show, which are the stand out moments for you?
All of the music on the Soul Caribbean show is splendid, but if there's only one choice, then it's Many Rivers to Cross, as that’s a long-time heartfelt favourite of mine.
I think it’s fair to say your roots are in gospel, soul and jazz, was there any adjustment for you to incorporate the Caribbean elements in your performance?
It indeed required a mental adjustment to incorporate the Caribbean element into my performance, but the support from the musicians and singers in the Soul Caribbean Orchestra, who mostly have the reggae background, helped me to find my feet in delivering this genre of music, within my own style of singing.
The show is quite closely associated with the London 2012 Olympics, having performed as part of the Cultural Olympiad just before the opening ceremony and again earlier this year at the re-opening of the Olympic Park, did you get a sense of the positive feel surrounding the Games?
There was most definitely a positive vibe of the Olympic spirit associated with the Soul Caribbean performance which is very uplifting to be associated with.
To what extent is Soul Caribbean a celebration of the sheer joy of singing; how important is singing to you?
Soul Caribbean is assuredly a joyful celebration of music to bring inspiration to the hearts of listeners. To me, singing is my healing.
Some of the members of the choir for the Poole show are dealing with or recovering from cancer, for some it has become a kind of therapy – have you any experience of the healing power of song?
I've lost several family members to cancer, all of whom were closely associated to music in some way. Songs certainly brought them comfort.
When did you know you were going to be a singer? To what extent did your parents and grandparents guide you in your singing career?
Initially, my intentions were to be a music teacher, which is what I studied for at University. I reluctantly decided to be a music performer once the US President Ronald Reagan took arts out of the government schools systems, which prevented me from pursuing the original music educator career plan I had. While my paternal grandparents are the foundation for my instinctive resource for singing, as spiritual therapy, the careers of my stepfather, Bobby Byrd and birth mother, Vicki Anderson, allowed me the platform to have the option to pursue a path in the music entertainment business.
What are the songs you’ve always wanted to sing; and why?
I choose songs to sing by how I can relate to the stories they tell. Since performing at Ronnie Scott's, from 2006, I was allowed to explore a variety of tunes, without any restrictions on what others thought was best for me to sing, which gave me an artistic freedom to explore my own musicality. The list of tunes is long, covering a wide range of styles and topics, each inspiring my own musical interpretation, as that's the ideal blessing of singing to me, sharing a story.
How does singing your own material differ from interpreting someone else’s songs?
To earn my keep, I have often sung songs that I felt very distant from, either in style and/or content, but in an ideal situation, interpreting someone else's song would have the same feeling as singing one of my own songs, when the musical theme allows me to make the song mine.
Is there new Carleen Anderson material on the way? How is your music evolving?
I am currently working on a trilogy project, a soundtrack album, book and musical production, covering a 100 year span from when my grandfather was born, the first in his family free of the US slavery system, to my relocation to the UK in 1990.
This project provides a platform for me to finally present music without the traditional restrictions on a singer to only release her next solo album, but supports the foundation of the quintessential storytelling basis through songs, spoken poetry and digital imagery, involving the theatre audience to be participants in the journey, rather than mere crowd spectators.
This avenue allows the covering of a wider spectrum of my musical influences, from the obvious gospel, soul and jazz roots, combined with the lesser known influences of my musical history from classical music to country & western flavours, while engaging the benefits of 21st century technology in audio sounds and visual imagery.
You worked quite a lot with Paul Weller, any plans to do so again, are you still in touch?
Paul Weller really championed my career early on, which gave me a lot of confidence in finding my own way to making music I feel is most true to me. Music collaborations together have been off the table for a while, but he will always be like a brother to me.
You were involved in the Brand New Heavies reunion, which pleased a great many fans – what are the chances of seeing the Young Disciples back together?
The last time I was involved with the Brand New Heavies was in 2000, for their Trunk Funk album, the best of the Brand New Heavies, when I filled in for N'Dea Davenport, their original singer/songwriter and Siedah Garret, who also had very popular songs with them.
It's been over a decade since I've had any musical associations with the Brand New Heavies. I did hear about their recent successful comeback album and tour which is fitting for a band with their well deserved industry status. I was very blessed to share the stage with them all those years ago, which made me extend my intimate performance to include more crowd pleasing elements to my shows. The Young Disciples introduced me to the music world stage, but as a unit we were a studio band. We never toured live. The formation of the Young Disciples was a magical occurrence, without forethought or planning.
A comeback takes away all of what made the Young Disciples special in the first place, a one-off. The three of us are still close and keep in contact though. We three know how much of a miracle it was that the music that developed between us ever even happened at all, random and unplanned as it was. To recreate an odyssey, live, out of what was a sacred studio experience, would be a feat of extraordinary measures.
Carleen Anderson appears in Soul Caribbean at:
Shaka Zulu, London
Thursday 3 October
5.30pm 020 3376 9911 www.shaka-zulu.com
Saturday 5 October
7.30pm 0844 806 8666 www.lighthousepoole.co.uk
Birmingham Town Hall
Wednesday 23 October
7.30pm 0121 345 0600 www.thsh.co.uk
The Sage, Gateshead
Thursday 24 October
8pm 0191 443 4666 www.sagegateshead.com
RNCM Theatre & Concert Hall, Manchester
Friday 25 October
7.30pm 0161 907 5200 www.rncm.ac.uk
After their performance at the opening celebrations of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this summer, Soul Caribbean is on tour in the UK in October.
A 21st century melting pot of well-loved songs made famous by artists as diverse as Bob Marley and Rihanna, Soul Caribbean is the ultimate Caribbean music party blending reggae and soul with salsa, soca, ska and calypso, as well as R&B to create an uplifting celebration of songs and singing.
Soul Caribbean’s magnificent live band is fronted by fabulous singers including sensational soul diva Carleen Anderson (Brand New Heavies, Young Disciples), young singer Zara McFarlane (signed to Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label) and led by musical director Kevin Robinson (Simply Red) with new arrangements of classic tunes including Could You Be Loved?, Umbrella, Many Rivers To Cross, Monkey Man and No, No, No.
The show will be hosted by comedian and actor Richard Blackwood.