When Gabrielle Bobb released her debut solo single in 1993 singing, “Dreams can come true,” she probably should have included the word “wildest” at the start, such has been the longevity and success of her career.
Number One singles, multi-platinum albums and Brit Awards have all gone her way, although these happy scenarios have often been in stark contrast to the turmoil in her personal life (an area of questioning that is strictly off-limits for interviewers).
musicOMH caught up with Gabrielle just prior to the release of her new album Play To Win, to discuss downloading and, erm, Dolly Parton.
“That’s all right, darling.”
Oops. Your normally well-researched scribe has just made a boo-boo by mistakenly wishing Gabrielle a happy birthday for the previous week – it turns out it was her son’s birthday, not hers. Thankfully, the soul star is as easy-going and forgiving as you can imagine.
This relaxed demeanour may have something to do with the time that Gabrielle has taken considerable time out of the public eye since the release of 2001’s mega-successful “best of” selection. So what has she been up to?
“I was having hangtime with my kids – it was nice to come away from it all and have a life away from my music. As you can tell, I got sick of it so now I’m back (laughs).”
She’s joking of course. Forget your Nicola Horlick-s, Gabrielle is as much of a “superwoman”, juggling career and single parenthood, and even standing up against the suits in order to guard her family time:
“It was nice to spend time with the kids and at the same time be able to work on my album at my leisure without the pressures of (trails off)… Don’t get me wrong, the record company would’ve preferred an album out last year but it just wasn’t going to happen.”
“If my album stiffs, it’ll be ‘let’s get the old bag out and bring in some fresh blood.'” – Gabrielle is under no illusions about the ruthlessness of the record industry.
Of course, taking a while to record a new album may have meant a lack of stress at the time, but Gabrielle is painfully aware that it has increased the pressure for it to do well in the now. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that her record label of so many years, Go! Beat, has been swallowed by the corporate monolith that is the Universal Music Group:
“I’ve come to a label that has Mary J Blige, Sugababes and U2. They have been really nice but this is a business and at the end of the day I’m the new kid on the block. I’m sure if my album stiffs it won’t be about ‘let’s develop it’, it’ll be ‘let’s get the old bag out and bring in some fresh blood.'”
With Gabrielle calling it a “business”, I wonder if she feels her livelihood is being threatened by the Rise (!) of internet downloading. She is surprisingly candid:
“Downloading – as long as it’s legal – is fine. In the long run, the people who will suffer are the record companies to be honest. At the end of the day, if we as artists can create our own music and then sell it to the public, i.e. by downloading, then we’ll be better off.”
She laughs nervously, perhaps realising that big-upping downloading while sat in the boardroom of Island Records is tantamount to waving the Israeli flag in an Al-Qaedan cave.
“I shouldn’t go there – I’ll get told off now!”
Eventually, she comes up with something infinitely more palatable:
“Downloading is cool as long as it’s legal and our livelihoods are not wrecked.”
“If we as artists can create our own music and then sell it to the public, i.e. by downloading, then we’ll be better off.” – Gabrielle shows no fear while sat in her record company offices.
Gabrielle is clearly someone who is unafraid of saying how she feels, a trait that has always flowed through to her lyrics. Play To Win is no different:
“This album is typical Gabrielle in some ways, in the sense of content. It’s very much about life experiences and it’s… written from the heart – I’m kinda known for that, which some people find a bit soppy… That’s me, though. Lyrically, as time goes on I think I’m getting deeper and deeper.”
The sentiments may not have changed but the music has. There’s a definite country music influence on some of the tracks. Where did that come from?
“I love country music! It’s such a big thing out of the UK… Back in the day I didn’t even know my country music apart from Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers but in America they’ve got the Dixie Chicks and all that, and I’m like – this stuff is huge! I’ve got producers who go out to Nashville and write with some of those artists and and I’m like, ‘Take me with you!’ I’d be in my element.”
For someone known for their stylish, soul-influenced pop, throwing in a few country twangs might be risky. She knows it:
“Musically, it’s more diverse and that’s something I really enjoy about this album. I’m hoping lots of people will like it but who knows? It might be a bit scary for some people – there’ll be like, ‘Uh-uh. We didn’t know she did country music, let’s bin it.’ So I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
“It hasn’t all been plain sailing but nothing worth having comes easily.” – Gabrielle on having a successful career against all the odds.
Even if Play To Win doesn’t get played and doesn’t win, Gabrielle’s place in UK chart history is secure. When Dreams went in at Number One back in 1993, it was the highest UK chart entry ever for a debut female artist. She’s in the Guinness Book Of Records, don’t you know. Gabrielle is justifiably chuffed with her achievements:
“When I was younger and growing up, no-one believed in me and my friends were very negative – hence they’re not my friends any more. But it was a case of go and be someone, be a Number One, be in the Guinness Book Of Records, which people didn’t think I had a right to, or deserve to, or even could. And the idea of coming onstage and having an eye patch when it was something that had never been done…”
“It hasn’t all been plain sailing but ‘nothing worth having comes easily’. My mum’s always maintained that and I believe in that.”
Seems like sound advice to me. Keep living the dream.