Heather Small's big soul
By Daniel Calderbank
Special to The Nation
Published on March 2, 2010 [available at nationmultimedia.com]
The British singer talks about her involvement with a children's foundation and the future of M-People
British soul singer Heather Small opened her three-date Thailand tour with a short but sweet set in the leafy grounds of the British Club in Bangkok last Friday.
On a day when Thailand was transfixed by the ruling of the assets of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the theme of the M-People singer's concert was all about helping those with nothing, with proceeds going to the Melissa Cosgrove Children's Foundation, a not-for-profit charity to help orphans and children living in squalor.
The charity was created by Pattaya-based Brit Tracy Cosgrove in 2001 and has received international recognition for its work.
On a breezy night not conducive to good sound projection, Small's distinctive voice, accompanied by two female backing singers, compensated for the absence of a band with a powerful performance that featured hits from the heyday of the '90's Manchester club scene, an era when M-People won two Brit Awards and the Mercury Music Prize.
Opening with a "Sight for Sore Eyes", the singer ran through the Manchester band's greatest repertoire, including "One Night in Heaven", "How Can I love You More?", "Search for the Hero" and the band's signature tune "Moving On Up".
Aside from the M-People catalogue, Small also dipped into her own material with a rousing rendition of "Proud", the soundtrack to the successful London 2012 Olympic bid.
In the company of the British Ambassador and assorted Bangkok luminaries seated in the VIP area near the front of the stage, Small's rich voice enticed those roped off at the back to dance during the closing stages of the gig, which lasted a little over 45-minutes in total.
Ahead of the concert, The Nation chatted with Small about the Cosgrove charity and her own future with M-People, as the group celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Speaking of the foundation, she said, "Every child deserves to have a happy and peaceful environment, be educated and to be safe. That's a basic human right and I want to do anything I can to help Tracy's work.
"During this trip, I went to Burma to see schools and orphanages being built, which was very inspiring. The first thing I noticed is that the children [there] are allowed to be children and to be happy. They have been educated and they are safe. The children are looked after on a daily basis by local people, they are not taken out of their familiar environment. Home is home. They are also cared for by monks who bring calm, stillness and discipline."
On playing intimate concerts in Thailand, compared to previous gigs such as the Euro '96 Football Championship, where M-People played to 65,000 people at Manchester United's Old Trafford, Small said: "It's not the size of an audience that counts; it's the level of participation and appreciation that are more important."
And speaking of M-People's future, she commented: "It is 20 years since we started the band this year, so we might do something that is a celebration of that time. I'm not sure there will be more albums, but we will always do shows."
She also spoke briefly about today's plethora of "manufactured" singers from shows such as American Idol.
"I think performers should do their apprenticeship out on the road. There might be a short-cut to fame, but there is no short-cut to experience and when you are out there live, over time, you learn how to manage a crowd and with these new format shows, you can bypass all of that.
"One day you can be an unknown, then the next day you are famous and everyone expects you to deliver on an international scale and I don't think many people can do that."
Simon Cowell, take note!