KNOWN for the soulful voice behind 1990s' pop sensation the 'M People', Heather Small is visiting Spain for a concert in Marbella next month. She tells EWN reporter Nicole Hallett about stage fright and her favourite dance as a contestant in 2008 Strictly Come Dancing.
Born and raised on a West London council estate, Heather Small joined her first group, Hot House, as a teenager in 1987. She later moved to Manchester after a chance meeting with Hacienda DJ Mike Pickering and shot to fame in the 1990s as the lead vocalist of M People with hit songs including ‘One Night in Heaven’, ‘Search for the Hero’, and ‘Moving on Up’.
In 2000, she released her debut solo album ‘Proud’, a critically acclaimed collection of self-penned soul and gospel anthems, followed by her second album ‘Close to a Miracle’ in 2006. Heather has visited Spain on several occasions: “I have been to Barcelona and done the Gaudi thing; I took my son to see the big games in Madrid, La Manga, and I spent New Year’s Eve 2010 in Palma de Mallorca with my son.
“We stayed in the old part, which I loved and we spent New Year’s Day walking around the harbour. I love looking at the water and the boats. I do not like actually going in the water, but the water from a distance is very nice.”
After decades in the spotlight, Heather admits she still gets stage fright. “It is terrible. I know that the best thing for me to do is to know my steps and to know what I am doing inside out. To get on that stage and do well I have to be confident that I know my song well.
“As the years go by I have realised that what an audience will forgive is a bad note; but that ain’t gonna happen. What they want is 100 per cent commitment.
“They want you to go for it and I have always gone for it, you know, and with experience you learn how to do that night after night without damaging your voice. You look after yourself.
“I actually have this little ritual I do to learn my songs. I am a bit superstitious ... I have this really old Walkman where the back has fallen off. I have to cover the backwith paper. When I go to the gym people look at me like they are thinking "that poor girl, she cannot even afford an iPhone."
"I do have an iPhone, my son puts stuff on the re for me, but I just feel more comfortable doing it the old way. When at home i just put my CD on.
"I drink herbal tea before going on stage. I do breathing techniques and relaxation."
But, once on stage, her stage fright disappears: "I love it", Heather says.
"When you get out there and you say the first few words and the sound is good, especially when you go out there with a band, it's amazing.
"There is no experience like it. It is well documented that I do not smoke, drink or do drugs. I understand the life you lead as a musician, the highs are so high and then you come off the road it is hard to come down from touring.
"I can understand how sometimes people can get into bad habits, but I have got a really solid family."
When asked which of her songs contain the most important message to her personally she is quick to answer. "'Proud', because I wrote it to myself. I have been able to put a roof over my head and I have been happy through singing. For me that is success.
“People think you can just measure it from what is in your bank account. I do not want to be known as a rich woman, but as a singer.”
She admits she has always admired Gladys Knight, Mavis Stapels, and Nina Simone.
“I like heartfelt singers that have that element of something...” Heather was a contestant in the British television show Strictly Come Dancing in 2008.
“The dancing and the training were absolutely wonderful. Getting up in front of the judges and being on TV was nerve-racking, she recalls.
“I am glad I did it because I met some people who are now friends for life.
“The waltz was my favourite dance. I didn’t have a least favourite but the judges might have done!” Heather laughs.