By Geoffrey Rowlands
The Steps comeback went pretty well. Dubious marketing didn’t help their singles. Only one of the tracks released from their album, Tears On The Dancefloor, made any impression on the charts. This was lead single, Scared of the Dark, which peaked at number 37. But the album reached number two on the UK chart and the Steps comeback concert tour proved enormously successful.
It is two months short of two years since Steps released Tears On The Dancefloor. The five-piece vocal group might have been expected to build on their comeback with a new album by now. Instead, it is Claire Richards, certainly the strongest singer in Steps, who is enjoying a UK top ten hit with her debut solo album, My Wildest Dreams.
“I’ve been working on this album for the past three years,” Claire remarked. “The others knew all about it and that I would be releasing my solo album during the break between Steps albums and tours.”
It is actually more than 10 years since Claire initially intended to create a solo album. After she and Ian ‘H’ Watkins left Steps in December, 2001, they performed together as H and Claire. All three of their singles made the UK top ten but their album, Another You Another Me, only reached number 58. They were dropped by their record label and split up in 2003.
At this time, Claire was busy with the preparations for her marriage to Steps backing dancer Mark Webb. She had taken up with Mark after ending an affair with former Steps publicity manager Reece Hill. The marriage was doomed to failure. Claire and Mark were divorced in 2005.
She had rekindled her romance with Reece before her first marriage had been dissolved. However, their relationship proved to be a genuine love match. They married and are the proud parents of two children.
“I was thinking about doing a solo album when I became pregnant. I didn’t want to do all the work required to promote a record at a time when my baby had to be the top priority so everything was put on hold. Things happened during the course of my career and private life which meant I didn’t seriously return to the prospect of making a solo album until about three years ago.”
Claire was uncertain about the style of songs she wanted to record for her album.
“Steps make a specific type of pop music so I felt it would be expected that I would do something very similar or completely different. I found it difficult to know what to do. I eventually decided that I didn’t need to stray too far away from the basic Steps sound but record songs which might be considered as a little more sophisticated.
“I wanted the songs to reflect myself as an individual rather than a member of the group. I’m 41 now, married and the mother of two kids. The songs had to make sense for a woman who has my circumstances. The lyrics really had to mean something.”
A wide variety of songwriters have contributed the 12 tracks on the standard edition of My Wildest Dreams, 15 on the deluxe version. One unexpected name amongst the credits is Claire herself.
“I listened to literally hundreds of song demos before choosing those I wanted to record. Most are about love and heartbreak, pretty universal themes. The song I co-wrote is about my children. I know there will be many women who relate to this track.”
Claire looks to further promote her album with a concert tour in the summer.
“I did some shows before Christmas to give people a taste of my album. They went really well so I’d like to do a tour later this year. Nothing has been set as yet apart from supporting Celine Dion at her London concert in Hyde Park on July 5. I’m unbelievably excited about that.”
When does Claire anticipate reuniting with her Steps band mates?
“The plan is to start working on our next album sometime in the summer. The others are really busy at the moment. None of them are doing anything in music. It’s all family or business.
“Of course, Faye (Tozer) was in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in the last part of 2018 and she’s just finished the live tour. I know how much she enjoyed doing all the shows but she might want to put her feet up for a while before we get back together to do the next Steps album.
“I’m not sure how much work I’ll have done before we join forces again. But I love performing so I’ll be ready and waiting. For now though, everything is about my solo work. All my attention is focused on promoting My Wildest Dreams.”
Marina Diamandis was formerly billed as Marina and The Diamonds. But the Welsh singer and songwriter has now decided to abbreviate her stage name to Marina.
“There isn’t any particular big reason behind the name change,” said 33-year-old Marina. “It was just something that felt natural and the right thing for me to do.”
It is four years since the release of her last album, Froot. Although it peaked at number 10 in Britain, the album did not match the UK chart-topping success of 2012’s Electra Heart or her 2010 debut, The Family Jewels, which hit number five.
Yet Froot gave Marina her highest placing on the Billboard 200. The number eight position far surpassed the number 31 spot achieved by Electra Heart and the number 138 reached by her debut album.
An as-yet-untitled new album should soon be released but the lead single, Handmade Heaven, is available now. Despite her successful albums, Marina has enjoyed few hit singles. Just four of her own songs have found a place in the UK top 40. The most successful of these was Primadonna, a track from Electra Heart, which reached number 11 in Britain and did well in other parts of the world.
She returned to the charts late last year joining Luis Fonsi as the featured vocalists on Clean Bandit’s single, Baby. This effectively became the prelude to Handmade Heaven. Filmed in a snow-covered Estonian forest, the video for her new single can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiOGlYjKgX8
“I wrote Handmade Heaven at a time when I felt very out of sync and lost in the world,” Marina remarked. “Something that helped me was taking the time to look closely at nature every day.
“In some ways, we live in a very unnatural world. Our brains are constantly trying to adjust and adapt to a lot of social and technological change. I think this can cause a lot of suffering. So many people have anxiety whilst the natural world has less of a role in our lives.
“That’s why the song is important to me. It’s about the sadness of feeling separate from nature. Handmade Heaven is an imagined paradise where we connect with people who are on the same wavelength and how special it feels when that happens.”
Avril Lavigne / Nicki Minaj
Many critics have expressed surprise that rapper Nicki Minaj is the featured performer on Canadian singer / songwriter Avril Lavigne’s latest single, Dumb Blonde. In fact, the two artistes were massive fans of each other’s work long before they ever met.
“I used to drive to my waitressing job at Red Lobster playing Avril’s debut album every day for months,” Nicki stated. “I’d cry to I’m With You, and blast out Complicated, Things I’ll Never Say, Nobody’s Fool and Sk8ter Boi. Avril is just so unbelievably talented.”
Avril is equally effusive in her praise of Nicki.
“She is my favourite. I’ve been listening to Nicki for so long. I listen to Fly, Starships and Bed all the time. As soon as I recorded Dumb Blonde, I knew she’d be the perfect artiste to collaborate with on the track. It was like a dream come true when she said yes.
“Nicki is such a talented, strong woman and driving force. Having her on Dumb Blonde is so special for me. We wrote the song as an anthem for anyone who has been stereotyped or talked down to. Keep your confidence up and don’t let anyone tell you how to be.”
There is no official music video as yet but an official lyric video is the latest posting at www.youtube.com/user/AvrilLavigne Also available to view here are the videos for the two singles previously issued from Avril’s newly released sixth studio album. The title-track, Head Above Water, was released last September while Tell Me It’s Over was issued this past December.
Irish indie-folk singer / songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson, better known by her stage name SOAK, has just released her latest single.
With Valentine’s Day just having passed, Valentine Schmalentine could be regarded as a kind of antidote to the day for those in love. The track is taken from SOAK’s sophomore album, Grim Town, which is set for release on April 26.
Valentine Schmalentine follows Everybody Loves You and Knock Me Off My Feet as the third single from Grim Town. Videos for all three songs can be found at www.youtube.com/user/officialSOAK
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