Soul legend Heather Small - from M People to Miranda!

Heather Small of M People fame who is performing at Flashback Festival at Nostell Priory.
Heather Small of M People fame who is performing at Flashback Festival at Nostell Priory.

Heather Small is more than a singer, she’s one of a kind, writes Weekend Editor Graham Chalmers.

Speaking to her in the run-up to forthcoming appearances at Grassington Festival and the Flashback Festival at Wakefield, I tell the former M People star that she’s a “British soul legend.”

Well, who else is in the running? Typically, the great soul diva reacts by laughing that loud deep laugh.

“Ha ha. I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t want to decribe myself that way.

“Sometimes the music business can make an artist hate what they do but I can say I still love it every time I sing.”

As the front woman of early 90s chart sensations M Peple, Heather enjoyed massive success with hits such as Moving On Up and Search for a Hero.

For whatever reason, those songs have endured when others of the same era have been consigned to that great Soundcloud in the sky.

But before I go any further, what about Black Box and Ride on Time?

Reportedly the frighteningly big voice on that huge UK number 1 was provided by a young Heather herself.

Is it true, I ask her.

“Ha ha. It’s music folklore. Whenever I’m asked that question, I don’t say yes and I don’t say no. All I say is listen to the track.”

It’s now a quarter of a century since the original House music scene which spawned M People, yet Heather remains as popular as ever, so much so her invigorating presence has been seen everywhere from Strictly Come Dancing to the London Olympics.

Are you surprised that those songs have lasted?

“Yes. It’s a very fickle business I’m in. You put yourself forward and hope what you do will last but your main aim is to make a connec tion to other people.What we did with M People we did will all our hearts.”

Heather still sings those hits but her setlist these days covers an incredible amount of ground with a wide range of jazz, pop and soul classics.

Although M People tend to reform for the occasional show, Heather has essentially been a solo act for 15 years.

To her own surprise, one of her first singles on her own, Proud, has become the song that would not die.

A top 20 hit in the UK in 2000, Proud has popped up on TV shows and sporting occasions ever since in this country and the USA.

It was even the official anthem of the London 2012 Olympics.

“It’s not something you expect to happen. You write a song that means something to you and then let it out there and wait to see if anyone else likes it.

“I knew I was really happy with Proud. Whatever I put out, I have to be able to stand by it in public.”

From the sublime to the ridiculous. How do you feel when you see actress Sarah Hadland in BBC hit comedy Miranda singing “what have you done today” with a cardboard cutout of your face stuck to the top of a stick?

“Ha! I’m very flattered but I don’t take myself too seriously. My mother and sister adore it, though.”

In whatever she does, Heather Small seems ‘purposeful’, a description she doesn’t object to.

Audiences who see her performing at the late night party show in the Festival Marquee in Grassington next month, are guaranteed one thing asides her vocal power and sense of fun - commitment.

“There’s no hiding place on stage. An audience is an audience whether it’s 20,000 people or 200. I like the sense of community that music builds in people. I’ve got a great band and I always give everything I can. When I’m on stage I like to sing like it’s the last time I will ever do it. I want people to go home saying ‘I’m glad I bought that ticket’.”

And with that the British soul legend says goodbye.

Heather Small plays Flashback Festival at Nostell Priory on Saturday, June 14 and Grassington Festival on Saturday, June 28.

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