Stansfield joined ARTISTdirect’s Amy Sciarretto to discuss how she prepared for this gig, the process of capturing the live event on film, and how her relationship with her biggest hit has evolved over time.
Amy Sciarretto: How did the idea of recording a concert in Manchester come about? Was it so you could sneak up the road to your home in Rochdale?
Lisa Stansfield: The town I come from is literally 20 minutes away. Whenever you go shopping, you go into Manchester, at least when you are younger. For me, it was a big deal and it is a big deal to play Manchester. You are from the same place as these people. It’s quite daunting. But in a lovely way. You are proud and you want everyone to be proud of you. In the past, when I’ve done certain gigs, in New York or London or Manchester, or Paris, there is an attitude. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the reason people buy a ticket to see a show is because they are on your side. They don’t spend $50 on a ticket to look at you with disdain or to boo you. They won’t spend money on something they don’t want to see.
It was like homecoming in a way. It was beautiful. We did the strings and we can’t do that in every show. We’re not there yet.
AS: Did you experience any nerves upon returning to the stage after a hiatus?
LS: It was nice. When your friends and family are there, you have more nerves, since you want to impress them the most. It is a comfort that they are there, as well. My family and friends are in the audience. It is a lovely, warm feeling. My husband [Ian Devaney] and I tour together and he said, ‘I can’t look at any face I know.’ But I think it’s really nice.
AS: Can you walk us through the process of assembling and working with a live band? Do you use the same players?
LS: We’re always gigging, so it’s the same band most of the time. It is easy to get back into the swing of things. We have an amazing band. We know each other so well, mentally and musically. It’s like a finely-honed thing. You know where the ball is going all the time. It’s lovely to see the crowd enjoy it as well… them enjoying you enjoying the gig.
AS: With such a long career’s worth of material, how did you choose the set list? Do you have a set structure or an advance plan when considering the show?
LS: It is difficult, since you structure the whole thing, which is usually an hour and 45, to have a fluidity and a lot of different songs and albums to choose from. You have to structure it. I am not good at that sort of thing. I leave it to my husband and the band.
AS: “All Around the World” was such a massive hit for you in the ’90s. Has your relationship with the song changed over time? What do you think audiences are reacting to when they hear that tune?
LS: I think it has changed around six or seven times or more than that. It’s been 20-odd years. I always say that the song is like a very old friend. It’s like having an old cronie with you.
It is so sweet to me. I think, ‘Oh my God, I have to sing this again?’ Then everyone goes ballistic and knows every word, and it makes me feel so happy. It is beautiful to know that you make people happy.
AS: Did the pressure or knowledge that you would be filming the concert change how your addressed the songs? Did it make you want to avoid any improvisation since the fans who would purchase it are looking for or expecting something specific?
LS: If I do a gig, I am doing a gig. It was special in Manchester, but not more special than anywhere else. I don’t give 50 percent in other places. If I am doing a gig, I will do it to the best of my ability. I will try and make everyone happy. That’s why people go to a gig, isn’t it?
AS: What are some of the key songs on the release that really capture Lisa Stansfield live?
LS: I think on this album and DVD and it has to be ‘Conversation.’ It’s beautiful in a sense that I know what it’s about but I don’t and I’ve written it. Sometimes you pour things out and don’t understand them at first. I think that song is about a second chance but it is emotional. It’s lovely when you have that live. It’s just me and the keyboard. To hear not one sound in the auditorium… it’s like, ‘Thank God, they’re not eating popcorn or on their cell phones.’ It got quiet and beautiful, and quite scary! I have to get everything in tune and every breath has to be right.
AS: Do you have a personal ritual before a live show?
LS: The most recent one in the last year-and-a-half… I don’t smoke anymore. I used to smoke nearly two packs a day. My voice would get tight and I’d have to do literally an hour of warm-up before the show. Now I don’t. I put Etta James on and I sing ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’ at the top of my lungs. I scream it! People think I am being murdered! As long as you don’t think that onstage, I’m fine.
AS: This concert film is a one-off experience, but how do you sustain the spontaneity of performing multiple nights on the road?
LS: We have a template, but I would never ask anyone doing a solo in a tune or had their own moment of glory to do it as it was on record. That is ridiculous. Why call it live music? I ad-lib a lot. It’s good for the morale of the band. We give everyone free reign if you have to perform the material over two months. If you don’t have permission to be free as a musician, you may as well work in an office.
Interview by Amy Sciaretto for Artist Direct