Releasing the tension with Mark Picchiotti

On uplifting melodies and remixes that trump whole albums

DJ and producer from the heart, Mark Picchiotti

I’ve been a long-term fan of Mark Picchiotti since I became hooked on his remixes of AM:PM tunes in the mid-1990s. In the days before you could listen to a thirty second snippet on Traxsource or Beatport spending £5 or so per twelve-inch was always something of a gamble in the absence of a listening station, but his remixes were as close to a home banker as you could get.

Wind forward twenty five or so years, and he’s still at it so I thought I’d finally find out what makes him tick.

Good to speak to you! Tell me, where do those euphoric sounds I’ve been chasing come from?

I think it comes from just a general sense of who I am. If I experience something that brings me joy I want to let others know about it but I don’t preach about it, I just say hey, here’s what my experience looked like and maybe if you want to try it you’ll get the same result. And when I’m writing songs and when I’m working with music I’m not musically trained so I play by ear and when I’m working out chords and things like that I’m looking for that emotion because music is about tension and release, especially pop music, and so when I’m writing I want to give you that release. Music, for me, can really change my mood. I used to teach at university and I used to teach my students that you’re going going to learn how to make music but more importantly you’re going to learn how to make people feel. So it’s really about me feeling an emotion and putting it out to the universe and if I feel good about it I know other people will. The record production is really a vehicle for me to serve my purpose on the planet. [This is true of] DJing even more so, because with a set of mine, you’re not necessarily going to hear the songs that you know, but you will hear songs that will make you feel a certain way.

I struggled to pick a collaboration to talk about so I’ll ask you: which of them do you remember the most fondly?

Well the one that stands out the most is The Absolute There Will Come a Day, simply because for one, the record just simply changed my career in 1995. Suzanne Palmer was the singer and I’d been working with her doing some commercial work. She’s got this amazing voice. She’s this little Polish girl who sings like she’s a church lady! So I’d just been getting into writing songs and producing as I’d been remixing and I just asked her, I said “hey, would you fancy singing on our dance track?” And she said “well, I’m not really a dance artist, but sure,” because I was paying her. I brought in Craig Snider who was my keyboard player at the time and said “hey, you wanna collaborate on this?” It was such an organic thing and I recorded it up in the attic of my home on a $90 Shure microphone and when I was done with it I just knew I had something special and it was different and unique. That evolved into getting signed to Tribal and doing the dubs and it’s still being played today. It’s in Grand Theft Auto 5!

One collaboration I have to ask you about as it still gets a wild reaction now is your remix of Kele Le Roc’s “My Love” – what’s the story?

[Laughs for some time] Ohhh, yep, yep yep! That record, oh my god Martin. I’d been doing some work for Polydor, I think that was her label, and I’d just finished working with Lighthouse Family [for whom] I’d remixed Raincloud. I’d spent time in Newcastle and they were so pleased with me and the label was really hot on me and they said “we’ve got this artist and she’s R&B but we want you to flip the script on it.” And if you hear the original it’s this nice, ninety six beats-per-minute R&B song and because she didn’t sing with a lot of vibrato the timestretch was good so you didn’t hear the flutter and the crazy chipmunk stuff. I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anybody about the hook in that song. I was big in those days, like everyone was, sampling disco records but my thing was I would take a record, sample it and then recreate it and add to it. So there’s the [sings], that little line in there, that’s actually from a record called Shine on Silver Moon by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr and it’s a rarer record and I just loved that hook. So I sampled the hook in there and arranged more strings and horns that weren’t there for the main hook, you hear it on the chorus, and then the verse I brought in my bass player, I brought in my keyboard player to add some extra keys on that. I was doing four remixes a month at that time so it was just the next, the next the next, and I was in London sitting in the office with Colin Barlow who at that time was the head of the label, and Kele Le Roc got brought up. For whatever reason, the album they didn’t feel was going to work, or they did release it and they didn’t get response, but for whatever reason they shelved it. But one of the reasons they felt comfortable shelving it was that my production of that song had done so well on the compilations that they had recouped well over the £250,000 advance they had given for the album. I’m glad you picked that record because that is one of my top five records that I’ve ever done, for me.

So moving to now, what can we expect to see from you then?

So about four years ago Defected licensed a bunch of Mark Picchiotti back catalogue, so last year we saw Pump The Boogie came out on Glitterbox and this year, I signed and produced a band called Jersey Street out of Liverpool in 2000 and originally I sent it to Defected and they passed and about two years later they came back and picked it up, and that came out on vinyl a couple of months ago. I was hammering them for a digital release and finally that’s going to come out on Big Love, Seamus Haji’s label, which is a Defected label. I’m doing a deal with Groove Culture for my next Javi Star single called Beautiful High. I have a new Absolute [record] with Suzanne Palmer and my buddy Craig [and] I was just in Chicago three weeks ago recording that. I have a collaboration with JKriv and Lisa Millett that I’m just finishing up right now and I have a second Lisa Millett record that’s just me and her. I have a new artist but I’m not going to say who she is because I don’t want anybody stealing her from me! But it’s a collaboration with PerQX out of Sweden. He hit me up to do a collaboration and I brought in this singer — it’s going to blow the roof off! Now, you see I didn’t say that about any of the other records and the other records are good but this is going to blow the roof off. I believe it’s a game changer. I’ve never been this prolific with my music in my entire career and I’m really excited about it.

Thanks so much it’s been so great to chat to you!

Thanks for listening to me yapping!

In time with Richard Earnshaw

On eclectic tastes and musical freedom

Pianist, producer, soulful house pioneer Richard Earnshaw

I’m a sucker for music with a groove, and I’ve been buying Richard Earnshaw releases on autopilot for years because his tracks come with grooves guaranteed.

One glimmer of hope during the COVID pandemic has been that he’s in as prolific production form as ever and helped keep us soulful house people going whilst we await happier times.

The really good news is that when I made contact he was more than happy to talk music one spring afternoon. It seems an odd thing to say about music but the striking thing about his work is the richness of its musicality, and when we caught up I discovered the reasons run deep…

So it’s been a weird year or so for all of us, how have you been?

Yeah it’s been interesting. Obviously I’m desperately missing the performance aspect of my job, but I think that with regard to the making of music I think it’s been quite nice not to have the distraction of the performance aspect. It’s very easy to get caught up in the “will this track work on the dancefloor” kind of mentality because often that is the primary function for it, but without that there and without knowing when the next time [will be] that you’ll be able to perform it to a dance floor or a crowd, you’re kind of refocusing on the whole music-making and songwriting aspect of the thing which has actually been really nice. It’s been reminiscent of how I started off as a young teenager making music. I wasn’t performing I wasn’t doing it out there I was just making music for the sheer hell of the enjoyment of the creative process. It feels a lot more like that now because when things are pretty rubbish, which they have been for a lot of people, I think “what’s the positive in all this, what can I do to use this as a positive experience?” so when it does eventually draw to a conclusion I don’t look back at it and go “well that was just a total waste of a year!” For me as a creative it is the whole process of making music now in a way that I haven’t done for a very long time which can only be a good thing.

You’re a reflex purchase for me because of that funky, musical flavour – where does that come from?

My musical background was very much cemented in the classical end of the spectrum as a pianist and I always had this fascination with music technology and making sounds and music with these crazy bits of equipment that were knocking around sort of mid-eighties, late-eighties. My dad was also a very gifted musician but more particularly on the jazz end of the spectrum as a jazz guitarist primarily. I remember as a child I used to hear him improvising on the piano and used to think [sighs] “I want to do that, I don’t want to read these silly black notes that are on this piece of paper anymore because that paper is telling me what I should be doing whereas I want to explore what I want to do musically.” It was kind of an amalgamation of my nerdy need to make beats and playing this predominantly jazz-inspired music. It was only years later when it was like, “Ah have you heard of Masters at Work?” I had no idea, and I became aware that there was a whole industry of music that was being made by people exactly like I was making it. I was like “Wow, so I could literally have a career doing this?” I mean I was going to have a career in music whatever, that was my focus. I was interested in all sorts of different types of music but this was like an accidental “Ah, this is pretty cool, I’ll do some of this then!” It just came so naturally to me just to play what I loved playing, and using a lot of musicians in the process of making the music like live bass, live guitar, strings, horns, vocalists, all this kind of thing as opposed to the Kraftwork side of things.

Who has inspired you?

My inspirations are hugely diverse. I was brought up in a house where up until the pandemic my mum was an operatic soprano and my dad was a sound engineer at the BBC and a very talented musician. There’s a lineage of musicians at all different levels and I was listening to their influences and gathering my own as I went along. I was listening to early Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre and all the ambient stuff that was going on, then would switch it up and listen to some of the early Shamen and Black Dog, crazy stuff. In between that I was listening to George Benson, I was listening to Kenny Burrell and the usual influences, your Dave Brubeck, your Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all these guys. On top of that, I was listening to, or even playing, Preludes and Fugues by Bach, I was playing Rachmaninoff concertos, I was playing Liszt, I was playing Debussy. I could never say one artist inspired me because I took so much from so many different areas.

When you’re weighing up partners to work with, what do you look for?

Obviously there has to be a connection musically and in personality. We have to be on the same page because you can throw yourself in a room, jump on the instruments and really cool stuff happens. When I was doing the touring dates when the In Time album came out, that band was essentially the guys I’ve worked with since the beginning, and the singers, we’ve all known each other for so long and worked together in various different capacities whether it’s directly collaborated on original material or I’ve remixed something that they’ve done before, so there’s already a fairly safe bet that we’re going to get on creatively. Once you’ve got that sorted, we all rely on each other to push each other’s buttons, push each others boundaries, take people out of their comfort zones a bit. It’s very easy to be so safe with what we do which is often down to the fact that when you get to a certain level of popularity, there is an expectation that you’re going to do X, Y and Z. In order to get to the point where you can experiment more you have to gain people’s trust which is what, for the first few years as a music producer, I had to do but now there’s some things where I just think “this is just going to annoy some people!” I’m not sure now whether I feel that people will appreciate my right to explore more musical layers or whether I’m just old enough not to care what they think!

Simon Dunmore recently caused a stir when he bemoaned the lack of new material in the genre – what’s your view?

Well, I totally get where he’s coming from with what he’s saying. We do need to create more space for new and emerging artists or even established artists being able to lay down their original work and for songwriters to feel like there’s a really exciting place for them to write music. Defected has a massive catalogue of music and they’re twenty two years down the road, there’s a whole new generation of DJs out there, there’s a whole new generation of music consumers. A lot of them now, these young, twenty-something DJs getting into DJing, have been caught by the behemoth brand that is Defected and probably haven’t heard a lot of the music they started releasing back in 1999 and 2000. When have all this incredibly rich and diverse content that you can reformulate, you can refresh, you can remix, you can re-release then why not? There’s a lot of these people that haven’t heard it before.

Reasons to be cheerful then, what can we look forward to from you?

I’m finishing off a lot of stuff that is of an interesting, less-house nature at the moment but I’ve got some original Innerspirit things that I’m working on, I’ve got a new single with Mike City that we’ve been working on for ages, like three or four years, that’s now ready to be dished out. I’m working on two albums of my own, one of them is a more conventional Earnshaw album which will be out next year and the other one which will be later this year is kind of an extended EP of seven tracks and it’s quite experimental. I’m just going to put it out there and let everyone either get down to it or not get down to it, so to speak! There’s a lot going on!

I really appreciate chatting you, thanks for your time!

Thank you very much for having me!

Time with Angela Johnson

Angela Johnson: singer, songwriter, producer, all round mood booster.

Reasons to be cheerful were in short supply in 2020 but Angela Johnson’s music was definitely one of them. It’s become a custom of mine to have a retrospective of the year as my final broadcast and when I surveyed my final playlist of the year, no fewer than three of the twenty tracks selected were hers. Indeed her cover of The Brand New Heavies’ Stay This Way with Opolopo, Micky More and Andy Tee now ranks amongst my favourites across the last few years.

Looking to start 2021 off on the best foot possible therefore, where better to start for my first interview of the year?

One of the first things I noticed as we got chatting was her happy disposition which told me our time together wasn’t going to disappoint. My first question was the obvious one…

So many good tunes in 2020, how on Earth did you manage that?!

Wow! I feel that I’ve put in enough work to be acknowledged, or at least remembered, to be asked to be part of a project. I’ve put out quite a bit of work and worked with a lot of producers and DJs over the years and I think this [last] year people came, circled back around and reached out; every year I’ll put out at least three to five tunes in the house music genre. I’ve just been blessed that I have a few people, a handful of producers, that definitely come back to me over and over again over the years and we’ve developed a great relationship; they know how I work, I know how they work so it really is quite easy for them to just call on me and for me to just step up to the plate and do some work.

Many may not realise your beginnings were as a classical violinist, can you give us a flavour of your musical upbringing?

Yes, well I have to say that I was brought up in the baptist church [and] my upbringing was very, very close to gospel music. My foundation came from my parents being involved in music. I have musicians as well as singers on both sides of my family; I think they all sing [laughs], so it was kind of inevitable for me to get it from both of my parents. I started playing by ear at the age of four on the piano, listening to my mother and watching her play a little bit as well and then I graduated to violin. I actually studied firsthand in elementary school and that’s where I developed this love for classical music and I wanted to continue on into secondary school and college [which is] where I studied classical violin for the first two years. I graduated from there to studio production which I really fell in love with; when I was supposed to be practising violin, learning scales and pieces writing music I was writing songs and working out how to create my own music. That’s when I started collaborating with John-Christian Urich of Tortured Soul. We developed this band together, Cooly’s Hot Box, and so I left the classical world to go into the R&B/gospel background and develop my skills as a singer/songwriter and a producer there at the school. In my last year at State University of New York at Purchase with Christian we left with Cooly’s Hot Box to get a record deal. I don’t know if anyone remembers Payday Records but we signed there for a little while and we put out our first single Don’t Throw My Love Around. We actually gained some popularity when the remix was done and we were able to make our name pretty big. We were kind of known as the American version of The Brand New Heavies. It was a wonderful ride to work with Christian and after that I decided to put out my very first soul project and that was They Don’t Know back in 2004. I’ve just been having a wonderful time being a singer/songwriter/producer and to produce music myself and not necessarily lean on other folks. I’ve pretty much established myself as an independent soul artist as well as a house music artist.

Who did you look up to and aspire to emulate at that time? 

Wow, wow! A lot of folks. I would definitely have to go back to my gospel roots and that’s Aretha Franklin, The Reverend Al Green, Mighty Clouds of Joy, James Cleveland but then from soul and funk, that’s Rufus and Chaka Khan, Earth Wind and Fire, James Brown, just so many folks that went in stages. Michael Jackson, The Jackson Five, Motown, they were huge influences on me growing up and becoming an artist myself. I still lean on those artists to this very day. Later on of course I fell in love with The Brand New Heavies but I just fell in love with the acid jazz scene. When we were coming up with Cooly’s Hot Box I developed such a love and affinity for British soul – when I first heard The Brand New Heavies they just blew my mind and I thought to myself, this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. This was me really becoming more fearless of becoming a stage front-person. I was cool working with Cooly’s Hot Box but definitely afraid of being in the centre and full attention of the audience. I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with that but I felt I was coming into my own during that period and that was definitely the foundation for me becoming the artist that I am today.

And so to house music then….

So through Cooly’s, Christian ushered me into doing songs that had a funk/soul feel but they got remixed. I think the most popular one was What A Surprise on Sole Records, the label out of Glasgow, Scotland. They did remixes on What A Surprise and that was the first remixes on Cooly’s Hot Box records. Frankie Feliciano did this amazing remix which just blew up and took us to a whole other level in the house world. I guess that was our very beginnings of being recognised as house artists.

You’ve clearly had blast doing collaborations, what makes you say yes?

Being the musician that I am and the producer that I am I’m going to key in on particular elements of a track. I would ask people to send me a few open tracks that aren’t so produced, just ideas, and if I hear something that I feel I can write to right away, that’s a good sign. I also feel that [it’s important] if this person has a great record of a lot of tracks that are very tasteful, and also thinking of the people they have worked with in the past. But I’m very open, I’m an artist, I’m a songwriter and I like the creative process. Nothing has to be spectacular when it’s presented me [laughs], it doesn’t have to sound a certain way. I’m in the developing stage with you and we’re working together, it’s a true collaborative effort.

And once they’ve got you in the booth, how do they get the most out of you?

Well, first and foremost let me be my creative self [laughs]. That’s really important because I’m very critical of what I do in the studio especially vocally. I will do parts over and over again until I hear that it sounds right for my voice so I’m asking for that producer to let me be and integral part of the process of producing vocals. But I like the idea of recording in my own studio so I  request that I record my own vocals so if they send the track, what I would normally tell them is that I’ll record a demo of the first verse and the first chorus and I’ll send it back over to them. It’s a scratch, rough, so don’t expect anything spectacular but if they like the idea and the direction of where I’m taking the song they’ll give me the OK and I’ll just go and produce the rest of it on my own. But sometimes every now and again I’ll get in the studio with some producers and record a song with them right then and there. But I definitely have to have a hand in what vocals stay and what needs to be drowned out [laughs], because sometimes as a vocalist you get something done in the same day; I like to break things up if I can but if it has be done in the same day my voice gets tired. The ad libs are usually the last thing that gets put on and I’m like, dude, let’s rest before I put something down! But normally I like to split things up, at least give me two days to get something out of me.

Stay This Way was one of my tunes of 2020, I’ve got to know more about it!

Well full circle! The Brand New Heavies were a major influence on the later stages of my becoming an artist. Reel People came back to me because I’d worked with them in the past and said, “Look we’ve got an idea, Peter of Opolopo is going to be doing this song Stay This Way,” and I said “Are you kidding me? I would be more than happy to sing this!” I have a lot of respect for N’Dea Davenport and The Brand New Heavies and this was me coming back to the very beginnings of my presence as an artist. They sent me the track, I fell in love with it; I was a huge Opolopo fan in the beginning and I just thought this was a great match for me to work with him on this. They sent the track, I laid down the vocals, sent them what I had at first and then they wanted to add more embellishments to make it different from the original but also remain true to the original because we didn’t want to take away from it. I added some ahhs and some oohs and some bells and whistles and gave it a bit of an Angela Johnson flavour and they were pretty happy with it. It was a really easy and quick process. I just have to shout out to Micky More and Andy Tee [as] their background is very musical and their tracks are very musical and that’s why it’s very easy to work with them. The first time I worked with Micky More was when he did a remix of one of my songs called Better and that was our very first time working together. It was just magical; I thought that he did so great with the remix of that song and we just started having a collaborative working relationship. It’s becoming like a tight-knit family for me, the group of people that I keep coming back to.

Anything you can tell us about 2021?

I’m definitely stepping up my game as a producer in the house world so definitely expect more from me not just as a vocalist but as an arranger and producer. I’m looking forward to giving the house music world and the dance world what I have. I definitely want to kick the door open a little bit more with more of a female perspective, I think it definitely needs that right now.

Well I just appreciate you making the time, it’s been so great to chat!

Thank you so much, I appreciate the opportunity!

Pushing through with Venessa Jackson

The Rainbow Nation’s very own Venessa Jackson

In the soulful house world Venessa Jackson was one of the most prolific artists around in 2020, with the hits seemingly just keeping on coming from her South African home. Despite everything going on in the world her Facebook feed was an ongoing tale of creativity and a sense of an opportunity being seized out of the chaos.

Having enjoyed playing the output of her efforts, I was determined to find out more about the person behind the music, and how she stays so positive. I was also curious as to why when she sings with such maturity how it was that she still seems to have newcomer status.

I started with my now-standard question of 2020…

How have you been in this funny old year then?

I cannot complain, funnily enough it’s been one of the busiest of my career. I think the lockdown has been beneficial for some and not so beneficial for others because for me, lockdown has forced people like record label owners and producers to be indoors with nothing else to do but browse music, watch movies and produce ideas so it’s given people within that field the time to check out my music and have more time to listen to my capabilities. And for those that have been focused on production it’s given them the opportunity to work with me whereas before, when life was normal, they never had the time to. To be honest with you this [year] 2020, it was very beneficial for me. I was really blessed and fortunate this year.

I’ve seen you mostly over the last couple of years but you’re clearly an accomplished singer – how did you get here?

I was put on the stage from a very young age; my mother was one of those obsessive mums and would buy every newspaper and every magazine and page through it for every kiddies’ contest with dancing or modeling or any talent contest [laughs]. She put me up in those contests from a very young age. I won my first competition, it was a dance competition and the prize was a vinyl [record] so my first vinyl was at the age of five and it was Kool and The Gang! I was so amazed by this and luckily enough my mother had this gadget that played this plastic circle (in my mind as a five year old). My mum would play it for me and I was so amazed – I was like “wow, one day I want my name on one of these!” It was on my wishlist from when I was very young, so music was something that I went into from a very young age. It was something that was just in me growing up. And then throughout primary school I participated in the community variety shows that we had in the area and I would sing there. Throughout high school I did the same thing so I would say it was just in my genes. I did music basically for fun for many many years underground, not even taking it seriously until I started getting bookings and I was like “wait, hold on, can I actually make a living out of doing this?” So in 2004 EMI broke my virginity into the business side of the music industry and from 2004 I’ve been building the Venessa Jackson brand from then. So when I’m referred to as an upcoming artist it’s just for those who don’t know how long I’ve been pushing this hassle! I’ve [sings] been around the world and I, I, I… I’ve been there, it’s just that many people are not aware of it. I feel that the music industry will embarrass you before it glorifies you and you’ve got to go through those embarrassing stages of where you get exploited, where you work for free and where you’ve got to promote yourself and all those things. I feel that I have done the groundwork and now I’m at the stage where I feel that I’m reaping the rewards for all the seeds that I’ve planted over the years.

I’ll be honest I know very little about the South African scene – what’s a like down there?

Oh we love to party! We love to party even in serious times. In South Africa you do not need a day, it’s like all the time. We are very happy-go-lucky – we’re called the rainbow nation for a reason because people from all over the world are here and we are living together in harmony, just like happy-go-lucky and we are partying!

I really want to visit now!

Oh you must! [laughs]

I’m curious about your style – I think of you as an amazing mix of house diva and blues, where does that come from?

I think [it comes from] the music that my mum used to listen to. I used to listen to whatever my mum played whilst she was cleaning the house and she played Billy-Ray Cyrus, Dolly Parton, UB40, Gladys Knight, she was obsessed over Tina Turner [laughs], Anita Baker… I think listening to all that and me being me, the kid that loved imitating, and I had a very good memory as well and I was very very talkative… So I think writing and singing, there was no other way to go. I think the music that my mum listened to had a major influence on the music that I do right now. I never went to music school or anything like that, I’m just learning as I go along. As I get new productions on a weekly basis, the melodies are guiding me into singing a certain way. I’m like, “Wow, I’ve never sung in that key before!” I’m still learning about myself and my vocal abilities even after all these years. It’s crazy.

You’ve been enjoying yourself with a variety of different producers, for example Yam Who and Mark Brickman – how’s that been?

Oh my gosh, so much fun! The first one was Push Through that I did with Luisen, then Yam Who did a remix as well. But the majority of funk and disco tracks have been with Midnight Riot and Mark Brickman. I’ve been having so much fun and I’ve found out from these type of projects that the flow and the writing and the storytelling and the concepts behind the stories are so exciting you could picture yourself shooting a music video or even having a movie from the storyline in that it’s so entertaining and interesting. I’m really having lots of fun in that genre.

You clearly are – best of luck and thanks for talking to me today!

Thanks for your support, I really really appreciate it!

I get lifted with Barbara Tucker

On divine inspiration, musical fair play and doing good whilst doing well

Singer, songwriter, stylist, choreographer, promoter, legend: Barbara Tucker

The standard greeting of 2020: how have you been in these strange times? “What I believe in is good, and what I choose to put my faith in is all good. Amen!” When someone sings with the spiritual belief that Barbara Tucker does, it’s no surprise that her recipe for health and sanity in the COVID era is a heavenly one. “That’s why I can say I feel good, and I feel so creative at this time. It’s strange but because of whom I believe in and my faith has allowed me to be well.” 

There’s a also celestial connection that she believes has profoundly influenced the path of her musical career. “I think it’s that Pisces/Aries thing – we tend to have a lot of creativity about us so we just tend to do everything as we feel and without any goal of where we want it to go!” She began with a promising career in musical theatre. “I’ve done off-Broadway plays in New York and I’ve received an award in 1986 for the most promising artist with a distinguishing artistry through the American Theatre of Actors but I didn’t follow that so much because I was doing background singing and choreographing.” A cover of Strafe’s Paradise Garage anthem Set it Off and work with production icon Tommy Musto followed, but her butterfly instincts remained. “I was able to record here and there, as that was not my main thing because I was doing things like singing, and dancing and club promoting! [laughs] I think that’s why somebody called me the Queen of House because I was embodying the dance scene, the night scene.”

Ironically perhaps it was her diverse range of skills that made her a target as a vocalist for legendary Strictly Rhythm A&R Gladys Pizzaro. “I choreographed for one of their artists, Butch Quick, and also did background for him on his projects and Gladys, I didn’t even know she knew of me, she was like ‘I always wanted to work with you,’ because I was also a club promoter promoting music with my partner Don Welch of The Underground Network.” Given that she’s synonymous with Strictly Rhythm at a time when the label was for many in its halcyon days, it’s no surprise that even her contract was extraordinary. “I was signed for six years, I was the longest serving house artist at that time signed to a house label — people were signing tracks, like now, they don’t really sign artists, they don’t really mould them and shape them. But Gladys said ‘We don’t really know what to do with you!’ because I styled myself, I choreographed for myself, I did my own shows [laughs].” The influence of the Strictly Rhythm family was profound, and is reflected in her own philosophy on the relationship a label should have with its artist. “I don’t believe in, ‘Oh we’re just gonna do one song with you.’ No! Sign an artist for three songs, give them some momentum, give them some play and Strictly was wise enough to have Strictly UK, and also licensing the records, that’s really important because you can’t do it yourself.”

Thinking back to that period, for all I loved Beautiful People like everyone else, I’d always rated her 1997 B-Crew production Partay Feeling as an all time favourite because it reflected the calibre of artist on the roster at that time. It turns out she too has fond memories of the project. “Thank you, somebody knows the song! That’s my concept, I loved that song, I loved what the B-Crew was about.” The selection of the B-Crew themselves was no accident either. “I had chosen Mone because, look, she’s the vanilla chocolate of house, I don’t know where she is these days but you hear that girl? One of my favourite artists is Dajae. She’s fun, I like the fact that she dances when she sings, she’s always fun.” And then, of course there was the other lady of that moment. “This was around the time that Strictly had just signed Ultra [Nate] so Gladys says ‘hey, why don’t you put Ultra in it as well?’” The late Erick Morillo completed the project also at Pizzaro’s instigation to revamp the production. On the subject of producers, she has a few things would-be collaborators should bear in mind when they come knocking. Showing respect is the first thing. “Don’t just say ‘oh, can we do a collaboration?’ And I don’t know your work, who are you? Are you using my branding to move up? What is it that you want from me?” Having a musical vision comes next. “Bring the song, let me see where you’re coming from. Are you looking for my voice to create the melody of the song?” And finally, of course, the commercial angle. “What is the plan? Do you have a label? Are you shopping it because my voice is on it? What is the intention of this project that you are doing? Don’t come empty handed. Amen! [laughs]” 

She’s Barbara Tucker and she’s assertive when she talks but is in no way stand-offish and when she calls for respect it’s clear that with her it’s a two-way street. I’d recalled some years before reading an interview with her where she talked about the term diva having a particular meaning and not to be used lightly. Unsurprisingly she still has strong beliefs the term should not be used without its divine connotation. “A diva is not you with an attitude, ‘Well I asked for this, I didn’t ask for that! Oh I need this in my bathroom not that!’ What is that? That’s a luciferarian spirit that ‘I, I, I, I need it, I’m the greatest and I’m this.’” It’s also a mindset that translates into the energy she puts into her work, for example a commitment to connect with her audience beyond the performance that I found deeply touching. “I like to create moments that someone can remember, because I don’t know what you’re going back home to. We’re here in Ibiza, we’re here at the Blue Marlin or the Children of the Eighties or Glitterbox and you just want to forget about…’I had the worst day at work, I had to work so hard to pay for this vacation…’ I want to create moments and an atmosphere that people can enjoy and forget their troubles or get through them with a strength and a power that is always inside of you. That’s what I think a diva can do.”

A diva it seems can make a positive impact on the world beyond her music, in her case with regard to philanthropy. “You can’t tell me ‘Oh I love God, and I’m singing this song, and it’s gospel house and it’s all this, and you have yet to go volunteer in a shelter, help clothe somebody, help feed somebody, so really?” Working with Dr Glenn Toby, himself a hip hop and garage performer of renown, she’s a major contributor to The Book Bank Foundation which promotes literacy with underprivileged children and adults. “We started off giving one book at a time to homeless families, and from there we collect clothing, toiletries, we bring forth inspiration and song and at Christmas we go round anything up to ten shelters a day.” It’s no surprise to learn also that she’s not one for the proverbial gloved hand of the distant celebrity; she likes to get involved on the ground. “I don’t care to give to million dollar foundations or fundraisers, let’s just get on the street, ‘cos we don’t know how that money will go. Not ‘Oh I just did a track and it had the legends and all these singers and musicians…’ OK, so you did a track and God’s blessed you, now what are you doing for the people? What are you giving back?”

Talking of public service, I was curious to know whether she was aware how well received her track Free Yourself with Birdee and Nick Reachup was in the gloomy lockdown days of 2020. When I asked, her answer revealed yet another insight into recording life I hadn’t expected. “I didn’t know that because, you know, here in New York people they tend to stay with their sound. If you have a producer who’s a DJ he plays his stuff or things he has alliances with so you don’t always get to hear your music, that’s why I love the UK, why I love overseas because the producers, the DJs can be authentic to music in general.” With an album track for E-Smoove in the works, plus collaboration on an album with Georgie Porgie and Kyle “Small” Smith it’s a service we can rely on into 2021 too but typically she has wise words for us DJs. “Don’t just play it because it’s on the label, don’t just play it because that’s what the big boss says. If it’s good, let it play.” 

As the lady herself might say herself, amen.