Sunday, 4 April 2010
THE DEEP, raspy voice of a female British singer filled the air on the closing night of this year's Holders Season, and there was talk in the audience about the uniqueness of the singer.
It was the voice of Heather Small proudly used by Britain at the ceremony celebrating the handover from Beijing to London as host city for the 2012 Olympics.
It is anticipated that Proud, the official Olympics song will heard by millions all over the world as it will be played repeatedly.
Small was born and raised in West London, but proudly lays claim to her Bajan roots. Her Barbadian parents migrated to England in the 1960s.
On the day before she made her debut on the Holder's stage, Small spoke to the SUNDAY SUN about her career as an international singer and the Bajan heritage which so heavily influenced her upbringing.
"I make sure my son understands that he has Bajan roots and be proud of those.
"The biggest thing for me is that I always wanted to sing and as a young girl growing up on a council estate, that was my dream. That I am here, coming to sing in Barbados, where my parents were born, I am just so proud to be asked".
While she went in search of opportunities, Heather was often teased by friends who simply refused to believe she would ever pursue a singing career. Whenever she headed off to the library to check newspaper ads for singers, they joked: "You are never going to apply for any of those jobs".
They were so wrong.
"I saw one that jumped out at me. It said Aretha Franklin. It also said Gladys Knight . . . .She had a very great influence on me. She had a very rich voice and beautiful phrasing".
The shy teenager applied for the job, and joined her first band at age 18.
"I had nothing called technique but they liked the sound of my voice and I got signed for two years".
She later joined the band M People and How Can I Love You and Colour My Life - the first two songs they wrote for her - received such a good response that M People soon discovered that any song performed by their lead singer always got chosen as the single.
She was really the injection M People needed. With her energetic songs, big voice, big hair, the reception from audiences was overwhelming. For Heather it was "quite good because it was musical and it was visual and our own enjoyment of it seemed to translate to the audience".
This year marks 20 years since M People got together and there is talk of big celebrations. Heather will be an integral figure in any such celebration as her distinctive voice helped to sell over ten million albums worldwide for the group.
In 2000, she released her solo album Proud. Her single of the same name is the signature song with which she has achieved international success. Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey chose it as a theme song for her show when she was looking for a song that summed up her work over a 20-year career.
Indeed, Heather was a bit taken aback when she learnt that it was to be included in the package for Great Britian's Olympic bid.
"I had done it so long ago" she said.
Heather sings songs she enjoys, and she acknowledges people "either hate or like" her "deep, unpredictable" voice .
She said: "People are really enjoying the live scene and I think because you are allowed to be that more creative and you don't have to pander to record companies, there is that added dimension - your personality and yourself delivering what you do, take on a different dimension".
"I think that chart music has become very predictable and homogenised. There isn't quite that diversity and that's quite sad", the singer observed.
As Heather chatted with the Sunday Sun, organisers of Holder's Season said they were thrilled to attract this well-known British singer with Barbadian connections, for the 17th season.