Andrea Grant knew from a young age that she always wanted to be a singer. She attending the UK's BRIT School, now famous for the likes of Jessie J. and Adele. Then in her late teens and into her early 20's, Andrea secured two UK major label record deals as well as spending several years recording radio jingles. Her experience led her to session work for amazing artists such as the late James Brown, Patti Labelle, Queen, Roger Daltrey, Donna Summer, Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys, Will Young, Cliff Richard, Joss Stone, Charlotte Church, Shirley Bassey, Paloma Faith, Gloria Gaynor to name but a few. Additionally, she was a backing singer for Tony Hadley (of Spandau Ballet) for many years and toured the world with none other than Robbie Williams. Furthermore, Andrea is one of the UK's finest backing singers and has been a member of The Strictly Come Dancing Band on UK's popular BBC TV show, "Strictly Come Dancing" for several years.
I first heard Andrea's unique vocal talents at Lisa's XOYO London gig back in the Autumn of 2012 and I had one of those "wow! moments on hearing her belt out the opening intro' line to "Can't Dance". Her vocal performance simply blew me away and throughout the concert I was like, "who's that voice?"
Eventually, after 18 months of seeing Andrea on tour with Lisa, I was about to find out a little bit more of what life was really like for her as a backing singer and touring in general. I managed to catch up with Andrea whilst the band were in Zurich, in between their sound-check and I started off by asking her how long she had been singing for?
Andrea: Oh, pretty much all my life, probably since I was about 4 or 5. At first, I wanted to be a dancer but then I realised that was too much hard work. So I decided that singing was a lot easier.
Bev: Were you from a musical family?
Andrea: No, not at all…! But my mum listened to a lot of music when I was growing up, different styles. We used to listen to Bob Marley and she loved Gladys Knight And The Pips,Tina Turner and that sort of stuff . And on Saturdays we would sing and dance around the living room.
Bev: When you were a kid, did you ever used stand in-front of your bedroom mirror singing into a hairbrush pretending it was a microphone?
Andrea: Hahaha...yeah! When I was a bit older I used to do that all the time and I remembered my mum telling me to shut-up from downstairs.
Bev: How did you get to that point of turning singing from a hobby, into full-time career?
Andrea: Well when I turned 16 I left school , then I went to a performing arts college called
“The Brit School”, which the likes of Adele, Jessie J and people like that have come out of.
Bev: Was that around the same time when Amy Winehouse was there?
Andrea: No, I went when it was in its second intake, so it was very,very new then.
Bev: So how did you get into Brit School and where did that lead you to next?
Andrea: I just did an interview and I got accepted. Back then it was a lot easier to get in to. Then I did a performing arts course there for two years. After I left, I got a record deal which was cool.
Bev: Which record company were you signed to?
Andrea: That first one was with BMG. It was a label within BMG called Deconstruction which was at the same time when Kylie Minogue and M People were signed to that label as well.
Bev: What year was that?
Andrea: Oh God, I'ld say around ’93, ’94, yeah something like that.
Bev: Which style of music were you recording back then?
Andrea: It was my own stuff. It was very sort of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston type of thing. Coz, Whitney and Mariah was what I grew up listening to and that was what I loved to sing. It was all very ballad heavy, that kinda vibe.
Bev: Did you ever have a chance to meet or see either Whitney or Mariah perform live?
Andrea: I never got to see Whitney in concert, but I always wanted to work with her. I know Johnny (Thirkell) has, so he’s told me lots of stories.
Bev: What happened from there with your recording career?
Andrea: Well that record deal didn't work out as the record company didn't really get behind me as an artist. They didn't really push my career or do their job and did not promote my single enough, so it didn't chart and eventually I left.
Bev: What about getting out of the contract?
Andrea: It was slightly difficult, but eventually they let me go.
Bev: Do you still have a desire to perhaps be out there, as an individual artist?
Andrea: Ohhhh NO, NOT AT ALL... not at all..!
Bev: How did you get to the point of becoming a backing vocalist?
Andrea: Well after a year of doing a normal job, after getting out of that first deal, I then got a second deal, which was with Warner Brothers. Which again lasted a couple of years, and again didn’t work out, for the same reason as the first deal. Then I just kind of fell into the session singing world. A friend of mine was signed to Warners as well at the same time and he was just getting out of his deal and he joined a session agency. He rang me up one day and said “I’ve been doing some radio jingles for this company down in Essex and theyre looking for some new younger singers. I was about 25 or 26 at the time and he said “are you up for it?” And I was sort of “yeah alright, I’ll give it a go.” I thought I had nothing else to do and I was about to start looking for a “normal job” and so I went down there and did some sessions and they loved it. So I basically spent the first three years of my session career solely and only doing radio jingles for a living.
Bev: A cheeky question, was it well paid?
Andrea: Yeah, it kept me going. It definitely was decent enough to live on. Then just going through that route, I met other singers and that’s when he started putting me forward for tours with major artists.
Bev: Who was your first gig for back then?
Andrea: My first gig as a backing singer which was obviously something that I had never done before, was for Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet). I did that for about eight years and that was a really good experience because it taught me a lot. Also I was the only girl in the band so it can be tough. But I was thrown in at the deep end and it was either sink or swim you know.
Bev: Back in the 80’s, Tony Hadley had a massive career with Spandau Ballet.
Music-wise, was that really your cup-of-tea, or did you just see that as a great opportunity to be recognised?
Andrea: Oh no, I quite liked his stuff. But because I was quite young when Spandau were out, when I had to start learning the songs, it was like, “OK, so they did that song and I remember that one, yeah OK!" So I remembered a lot more songs than I thought I knew, which was good. It was a great opportunity to start as a backing vocalist.
Bev: Eight years performing backing vocals was a good gig. Where did you go from there?
Andrea: Well I was still doing radio jingles in between and I was still doing other studio sessions and I met a singer on a session one day called Tommy Blaize. He had just started doing “Strictly Come Dancing” at the time I think he had done two series and they were putting together a sister show called “Strictly Dance Fever” and they were looking for another singer. So Tommy contacted me and said “are you interested in auditioning for it?” and I said, "yeah OK, you know I’ve got nothing else to do at the moment, yep sure.” At the time I had been really ill for about six months, but I decided to go for the audition when I just sang acapella. I didn’t think I did very well, so I cried all the way home and I just thought to myself, "Oh just forget all about it, you haven’t got it. It’s fine, you’ll still do other things.” Then two weeks later, they rang me for a call back which I was really really surprised at. I think something like 100 girls had gone for this audition and I went for the call back as they couldn’t decide whether they wanted three singers or four, then in the end they went with four.
Bev: Who were the other singers?
Andrea: At the time it was me, Tommy Blaize, Lance Ellington and a girl called Tara McDonald. So I continued with Strictly Dance Fever and from that they offered me Strictly Come Dancing. I did one series of that and then I was offered the Robbie Williams gig. I was still quite young at the time and I thought “well, I just prayed for a big-gig, with a big artist" and I just used to say to myself “Just one big-gig and I’ll be happy!”
Bev: Your prayers obviously came true, because you probably couldn't have got much bigger than Robbie as far as UK artists were concerned.
Andrea: Yeah, at the time it was probably the number one tour in the world, so I had to decide. "Do I stick with Strictly, or do I do this world tour on such a big level?" It was stadiums and the biggest audience was 95,000 people and I just couldn't turn it down. So I left Strictly and I did Robbie’s world tour and which lasted nine months. It was such an amazing experience.
Bev: How did you get on with Robbie?
Andrea: I'm the kind of person who keeps myself to myself when it comes to artists. I like to give them their space because usually everybody wants to have a piece of them. And you know I'm courteous with like, “Hi, how you doing?” But I leave it as that. I don’t ever try to be their friend, you know, I work for them, so that’s just how I am. He socialised a little bit, but not a lot because I think at that time he had a lot of demons and issues going on. But he was cool, he was a nice guy.
Bev: So after the Robbie tour did you have some other gigs lined up?
Andrea: I went back and did some more gigs with Tony Hadley. I did various other sessions. I think I did bits with Lisa (Stansfield) a couple of corporate gigs in Moscow yeah that was good.
Bev: How did you initially get the call to work with Lisa?
Andrea: Well with Strictly, because I left, they replaced me with someone else at the time. But then decided they we're going to put on an arena tour of Strictly"and at the time the girl who had replaced me was pregnant and she couldn't do the tour. So how it worked out was that she did the TV and I did the tour. And whilst being on the first tour I met Steve Geere. He was the keyboard player on the Strictly tour and so he asked me if I wanted to do some gigs with Lisa and I was like, “yeah!"
Bev: Were you familiar with Lisa’s back-catalogue?
Andrea: Oh yeah, most definitely. More so than with Spandau Ballet! I knew a lot more of her songs.
Bev: How did you find meeting Lisa for the first time? What was your initial impression.
Andrea: She was just really cool and down-to-earth in rehearsal. She was really lovely.
Bev: Many people who get to meet or work with Lisa say that she’s just so easy-going.
Andrea: Yeah, she is! She really doesn't give a shit to be honest. She’s just really cool and she’s about togetherness. It’s never “Us" as a band”and her on her own. She likes us all to be together as much as we can be.
Bev: You've done quite a few gigs with Lisa now. Some dates in 2012, 2013 and then last year she mixed it up a bit between you and Elle (Lorraine Cato-Price).
Andrea: Yeah, well the deal with me and Elle is that we both went to school together and we are the best of friends and very close. In this game it’s really difficult to trust people to cover you on a gig when you can’t do the gig yourself. But I'm really lucky that I have Elle.
Bev: I remember last year at the last minute you were unable to make a couple of Lisa gigs abroad in Russia and Turkey due to some family reasons.
Andrea: Yeah, luckily Elle stepped in for me last minute and flew over to fill in for me.
Bev: Fantastic. But now it would appear that Lisa has found some further singing talent within the band with Johnny (Thirkell).
Andrea: Yes! Amazing vocal talents of Mr Johnny Thirkell . He is now harmonising with us. You will be nicely surprised hahaha! Actually, I was surprised in rehearsals. I was like “where did that come from?” Hahaha, no but he’s great!
Bev: By now you must be quite used to touring with the rest of this band. Saying that, do you at times ever get that black-cloud hanging over you when you're missing being away from home?
Andrea: I have a love-hate thing with touring. There are times when you just want your own space and it can be difficult being the only girl , because Lisa’s not always on the bus. But in general I love it, I love the whole thing about it. You know there’s Skype and internet nowadays so we can catch up with loved ones and they come to whichever gigs they're able to can come to.
Bev: I've heard that Lisa is a genuine trooper with everyone. Does she ever come over to cheer you up, joke around and give out free hugs?
Andrea: Oh yeah all the time. Yeah, she’s great like that!
Bev: What is it like travelling on a tour bus with all these guys and who's generally the most untidiest?
Andrea: Oh, I’ld say Davide (Bass) hahaha!He sometimes has no self-awareness of other peoples space and he’ll just dump a suitcase over there or his clothing is placed here and there, and its like, we’re in a dressing room that’s a size of a shoebox and at times he just doesn't seem to realise it.
Bev: I imagine it could be quite difficult to keep yourself organised on tour. Do you or the others tend to lose or forget things when moving from place to place?
Andrea: Erm…I know that Johnny’s left his glasses behind a few times, but someone in the crew has ended up picking them up. I’m really careful with my stuff, because a lot of people when they get to a hotel, unpack. I don’t unpack. I just take out what I need, because I’m so scared of leaving something behind.
Bev: Concerning rehearsals, do you give your input with the band concerning the song choices?
Andrea: I tend to leave that to 80’s Dave, because he’s the MD (musical director) and that's his job. You know, if I'm asked my opinion I give my opinion but I don’t generally like to interfere.
Bev: When you’re on stage with Lisa, are there ever moments when you’re required to step in to take over her vocal parts?
Andrea: That doesn’t happen very often, but there are times when she might give me a look or some kind of signal, like "you do the top and I’ll do the lower".
Bev: What is the best part for you, being in this band?
Andrea: It’s just fun! Its down to earth, it’s laid back, there’s no diva’s. Usually in every band there’s someone who’s really irritating (giggles) But in this band there isn't, which is really nice. I also love the fact there’s not an “Us" and "Them” thing. It’s not the band and then Lisa on her own. So it’s just like one big happy family!
Andrea Grant was interviewed by - © Bev Nathan for www.lisastansfield.net on the European Tour of Seven