Whilst LISA STANSFIELD has been all around the world in the past three decades, she still loves to tour and considers her latest album to be her best yet. The Northern U.K. pop and soul songstress chats to Nicholas Chrisostomou about sharing the stage with George Michael, her recent American tour, writing her life story, and her dogs, Mavis and David.
Tell us about your home life as a kid?
I was a very happy child. I would play a lot on my own, with my imagination for company.
Who was the musical influence in the house?
My mother was the keeper of the record collection and it was really her that introduced me to music when I was a child. She was always playing Diana Ross, Barry White and Motown in the house. My accent is down to emulating my mum and dad. Then when I started singing, I copied singers and it became my voice. Well, my voice with lots of different people thrown in!
When did you first realise that singing and performing were to become your life?
I always assumed that this would be my life because I never thought about anything else. So, after I won the Manchester Evening News Search for a Star competition, released my first single, and started to play nightclubs and appear on local TV shows, I kinda knew it was the start of my professional career. In my fourteen-year old head it was what was supposed to happen. I even co-hosted children’s pop show, Razzmatazz, while I was still at school!
If you hadn’t been a singer, what might you have been?
A writer or an actress definitely, since it would need to have something to do with the arts. I write songs and stories constantly and I don’t know how I’d cope if I couldn’t. Although, I nearly started a business selling cake products. We looked into it but then everybody started doing it and I thought no, they’re all chefs that are doing it, so I’m going to be at the back of the queue! I still make a really good banana bread and really, REALLY good cakes, like good chocolate cakes.
Who or what would you say influenced and shaped you musically?
Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Prince and Chaka Khan. Many great singers have influenced me, and I see them as my teachers.
How did your 1989 hit single Around The World change your life?
Well I’m still singing it to this day! I have had and still have a lovely life thanks to that song.
Is fame all it is cracked-up to be?
Fame is what it is, and you have to learn to deal with the good and bad aspects of it. Fame can make people around you behave in odd ways. You see a different side to many people when they get around a famous person. It’s very interesting and sometimes a little sad too.
Which musical style do you most identify with?
Soul, R&B and funk music excites me.
Who writes your songs?
Me and Ian Devaney – my workmate and my husband.
You have sold 20 million albums and recorded hundreds of tracks. Is there one special song which resonates with you?
Not really. It changes like the seasons and my mood at any particular time.
You have won numerous accolades, including three Brit awards, a Billboard Music Video award, two Ivor Novello awards and many more. Winning which award meant the most to you and why?
They all mean something to me. I do covet the Ivor Novello though, because it’s an award for writing. It looks really cool too!
To what do you attribute the longevity of your three‑decade career?
I suppose the fact that I have said ‘no’ to more things than I’ve said ‘yes’ to has stood me in good stead. I think a lot of it is trusting your own gut instinct. There’s a lot to be said for trusting your instincts.
You’ve been married to your music partner, Ian Devaney, since 1988. What’s the secret to your long and successful relationship?
Still fancying someone. That they still excite you and make you laugh. Being best friends and truly wanting to spend time together, whatever it is you’re doing. I just love Ian. He’s got a lot of patience with me. He’s a lot more easy-going than me. He’s a water sign and I’m fiery, so he calms my fire down a bit. But sometimes it goes the opposite way, I make him BOIL and puts my fire out!
Is there anyone you consider to be a mentor and why?
My drama teacher Jeanette Dawson was a big influence on me and my life in general. When I met her she taught me so much. I loved her drama classes and how her classroom seemed a world away from everyday life and the humdrum of school. Sadly, she died quite a while ago. I would love to chat to her now and tell her about my experiences, because it’s partly due to her that I have the determination and faith in myself to do what I do.
Tell us about Deeper, your eighth studio album released earlier this year?
I spent about four years working on Deeper, which is pretty much packed with a smooth blend of pop, soul and disco vibes. The kinda tunes you play before you go out.
How did you feel the very first time you listened to Deeper the whole way through?
Incredibly proud; I know it sounds ridiculous, but I really do think that if I never make any more music in my life I can die happy.
Why do you love to tour when so many artists hate it?!
It’s the ultimate way to see, first hand, the effect your music has on people, and it’s so very liberating to play live.
Describe your act when you perform live?
It’s a real show with a lot of energy and love. We’re very urban, and when we play live we are very serious about our music and it shows. It’s all very in your face. We really love to have a good time and the audience are part of the whole show and atmosphere.
How was your most recent tour different to previous tours?
I just played a 13-date tour of North America, which was my first time performing in the States in more than two decades. I was backed by a ten-piece band that’s like a really good football team. The concerts were very energetic, and as well as some of the classics, we also performed a variety of new cuts which went down a storm!
Of all the venues you have performed, do you have a favourite and why?
The Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in 1992. It was a truly magical day.
At that concert, you famously sang Queen’s These Are The Days Of Our Lives with George Michael. What stands out the most to you about that performance?
Everybody who did that show was just so famous at the time. The place was literally full of musical legends, but nobody had an ego. Even the rehearsals were pretty subdued. I think it was at the Rock In Rio festival in 1991 that I met George for the first time. In rehearsals for the Freddy Mercury concert I was wearing one of Ian’s coats and had a big hat on. I looked a bit like a homeless person, and I was scoffing a big bacon roll because I was starving. George said to me, “Fucking hell, how can you eat bacon and perform like that?” But George was very lovely and we had quite a laugh. After the Freddie Mercury thing we went out with Anita Dobson and Brian May, which was really nice.
And you’ve duetted with Barry White?
Yes. Barry White was gorgeous, a very kind, warm person and very gracious. A real gentleman. And that voice, NOBODY will EVER have a voice like that ever again.
Is there someone you would still like to perform a duet with?
I would love to sing with John Newman (Love Me Again). He has an amazing voice. Emeli Sandé also has an amazing voice and is such a great writer. And Gregory Porter, I LOVE Gregory Porter.
Musically, is there anything different you would still like to try?
I’ve never really worked with any rappers, so I’d love to do something like that. I think it would be a fantastic experience. I love doing different things musically and that would definitely be different.
With such a busy schedule how do you kick back and relax?
Since we travel back and forth all the time, just staying at home is like a nice break. Though we do sometimes go away for a few days. On my last birthday we went to the Lake District.
You have obviously stayed in many hotels. Which is your preferred hotel and why?
I absolutely love Claridge’s in London, and the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong is amazing.
You have a home in London and a couple across the pond, but you moved back to the Lancashire mill town of Rochdale ten years ago, and this is where your albums are recorded. Tell us about Rochdale?
Ian and I have lived in Rochdale all our lives. We have been spending a lot more time there as we record there and make films there. Rochdale is a typical Northern town. It’s our hometown and it’s great that we can spend time there for our work too.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
I love the South of France. We used to go to Cannes quite a lot, but we’ve been to Nice a few times in the last few years and I love the mixture of culture there, the food and the atmosphere especially. I don’t much like to sit or lie in the sun all day. I’d much rather walk around and find little junk shops full of nick-knacks and explore. Walking around towns and cities is far more interesting than just lying on a beach all day. I can sun myself for a little while then go and explore!
What do you consider to be your greatest personal achievements?
Professionally, to have been in this business for thirty years and have come out the other side relatively unscathed.
Are you a dog or a cat person?!
Dogs every time. I have two in Rochdale – David and Mavis. Mavis is a Yorkie, named after Coronation Street character Mavis Riley. Our Shih Tzu David is known as “Baby David” because my mum and dad always wanted a boy and would have named him David. So, our little dog David is the token boy in the family.
What one piece of advice would you give to a budding performer looking to start a career in music?
Don’t let anyone bully you. It’s your life and your career. Don’t rush into anything too quickly for ambition’s sake. Dance to your own tune – never anyone else’s.
What’s next for Lisa Stansfield?
After thirty years in the business I am writing an autobiography. It’s like little vignettes of my life, from my childhood onwards. I have basically picked little stories about me and written them down. And I’ll be back in that studio again soon!