Lisa Stansfield; Brit winning, Soul/R&B singer/songwriter/superstar, with 20 million album sales to her name - these facts are well known…the Lisa Stansfield I met, and had chance to ask a few searching questions to, you could probably add other descriptive words to, like; recluse, plain-speaking, learned, dogged, determined, revitalised…oh and I nearly forget, cheeky! I did ask the big question…'where the heck have you been?' Which is answered in our print issue…but lets start at the beginning because this cracker of a story, in my eyes, deserves a very quick recap - well it has been a while hasn't it?!
Lisa (Jane) Stansfield was born in Heywood, in the borough of Rochdale, Greater Manchester…three months before England won the World Cup - being a gentleman, I'll let you can work out her age! After co-hosting a children's TV show called Razzamatazz as a teenager and completing the odd jingle for various radio stations in the Manchester area, Lisa was signed by Arista Records and the rest, for 'solo Stansfield' …wasn't-quite-history!
Firstly, the early eighties saw Stansfield become part of pop trio Blue Zone. This band formation came about quite by chance when eventual husband/writing partner/manager, Ian Devaney ran into old school friend Stansfield in a club - after the suggestion of getting together to start a band Devaney and Stansfield were soon joined by third member, session musician, Andy Morris. Blue Zone would go on to have limited success with singles; "Love Will Wait" (86), "Finest Thing" (86), "On Fire" (87), and "Jackie" (88). But it was to be a B-Side which was to kick start the ball rolling on the crucial transition from band member/front women to solo superstar…The song was called "Big Thing" (88) and was a B-side to "Thinking About His Baby" (87) and if you've done your maths you will notice that it took a year for this fine tune to get the airplay/love it deserved.
Stansfield recalls "You must know the song 'Big Thing' - it was the B-side, when there were B-sides, to a real pop song and everyone in London really went mad about it!…all the clubs… It sold so many copies in a week, the record company came back to us and said 'your record sold like 10,000 copies within the last week.' We were like 'nahh, (laughs) I don't think so!' Then we realised it was 'Big Thing!' Everyone was just going MAD over it, so then we sat down and said we really need to re-think it all - that's when we decided to work with Coldcut cos we know them."
In fact, this proved to be a real turning point in Stansfield's career when she sang guest lead on the track "People Hold On," first released in 1989 (UK #11) and then re-released to better effect in 1997 (#4) - it was the success of this track in '89 which made the decision final. "Ian and Andy said 'you should be a solo artist'…then I burst out crying!…It was horrible, it was like (laughs as she does an impression of her then band mates) 'you go then, you f#cking go and do it all!'"
Stansfield explains the going solo process further "Yeah, we sat down with management and I went (mimicking how she cried) 'but I can't do it all on me own! What if I can't answer a question?' That was my fist panic…what if I can't answer a question, what if I don't know the answer to a question? Because Ian and Andy were always on either side…SOMEONE would look at me and ask a question and I'd go (looking either side of her as if to refer to the other band members) 'what do you think?' (laughs)…
That was one thing about my life and everything I've done really, it's like I've been on a diving board scared out of my life and someone just keeps pushing me!…it's like, if someone asks me to do something and it seems like a really exciting project, but I maybe really frightened about it, nine times out of then I'll say yes imminently because then I can worry after I've said yes!"
Explaining the difficulties she encountered at the start of her solo career, especially in the U.S. as a white artist mistakenly thought of as black because of the R&B infused material she released. "Well is was funny in a way because now it could NEVER happen, but THEN people had never seen me, they had no idea that I was white - they had no idea that I was white and skinny, they thought that I was a big black women!"
Lisa Stansfield tours Europe through May and returns to the U.K. in June to start a nationwide tour to the following venues: York, Opera House 10th, Edinburgh, Queen’s Hall 11th, Newcastle, Tyne Theatre 12th, London, Hampton Court Palace 14th, Manchester, Salford Lowry 15th, Birmingham, Symphony Hall 16th. Tickets: gigsandtours.com - 24 hrs hotline 0844-811-0051 Also look out for a new Lisa Stansfield album later in the year (full details coming soon) and an appearance in Elaine Constantine's "Northern Soul: The Movie" (later this year). Follow on Twitter at @LisaStansfield TO READ MORE FROM THIS INTERVIEW WITH LISA STANSFIELD CHECK OUT OUR PRINT ISSUE -
WORDS LEE TYLER