It was joining superstar soul singer Michael Bolton on his last tour that convinced Gabrielle she should get back out on the road in her own right.
The Dreams hitmaker tells WOW247 how the stint in support gave her the kick she needed.
‘It feels like ages ago, but I think I last toured in 2013, or was it 2014? It’s been a bit of a while. But this year when I was supporting Michael Bolton, which isn’t the same as doing it on your own, we had such a blast, we had so much fun.
‘I had wanted to go on tour, but I get a bit scared. I’m such a big baby, so my manager was, like, how about there’s this slot supporting Michael Bolton? I thought that would be amazing and an honour to do.
‘I was a big fan of his, and my mum was a huge fan and still is, it was such fun. And I got the opportunity to sing with him. It kind of whetted my appetite for singing again – this was kind of fun.
‘And a lot of the audience, not only were they his audience, but some of them crossed over with mine, and I enjoyed it so much it made me want to go out and do my own thing.’
The singer-songwriter burst into the mainstream in 1993 when her first single Dreams debuted at number two in the charts – which, at the time, was the highest chart entry for a solo female debut act in the UK. It soon hit number one and a slew of other hits followed such as Out of Reach, Rise and If You Ever – the latter with East 17. With her distinctive look – she sported an eyepatch at the start of her career to hide a drooping eyelid – she cut a striking figure in the charts for a good decade. But it has been nine years since her last studio album, Always, and she herself said she was quitting music.
However, she’s now back on the road and promising to dust down not just the hits, but also ‘a few old chestnuts.’
‘Most definitely. But I always do the obvious songs – I never do shows without putting the old stuff in because that’s what I’m mostly remembered for, and I love that.
‘And a lot of people when they come to the shows, they tell me that some of my songs have been the soundtrack to their lives, so it has to be done.’
Gabrielle is very conscious that it’s 23 years since that first hit.
‘It’s scary. But when I look back and do some of the songs, I make a timeline of what I was doing when. I remember when I was carrying my son – he’s 21 now and graduated from university. So it does take me back, and it does surprise me how quickly it’s gone.
‘I remember performing Dreams in about ’91 up and down the country before it was released, when it was just a white label. So I’d lived with it for a lot longer before it was a hit – it’s older than people think.
‘I was on the underground circuit singing in all these clubs and Dreams became this huge underground hit and I never imagined what would happen.
It’s not been a bad life for a working class girl born in east London. I’m having funGabrielle
‘Being properly signed and having a record that would go straight into the charts at number two and then up to number one, that it would do all these amazing things and launch me, it was incredible, because back then I just wanted to make music.’
Fortunately Gabrielle has never felt burdened by the feelings of resentment towards her big hits that some acts have.
‘Never. I have my own favourites, but when people ask about songs like Dream or Rise, they’re my favourite songs, or Out of Reach, or Sunshine, the songs people want to hear I never get sick of singing.
‘When I read or see interviews where you’ve got these artists kind of moaning,’ she says, putting on a brilliantly whiny voice: ‘“That’s not who I am any more”, or “I’ve grown”, it’s fine, they’re entitled to those opinions, because you do write songs at different stages in your life and sometimes you do lose that connect.
‘But I’ve always remained connected to those songs like Dreams, Out Of Reach. For me I wrote them, they’re relative to my life, they’re extracts from my life, so for me, I’ve never had that disconnect from them. I never have a problem, and thankfully the fans are happy with that.’
So what was that about after Always when you said you were retiring from music?
She cackles: ‘It’s funny, I probably say a lot of things like that: “Yeah I’m done now, I’m going to be with my family”, but as you can tell that’s not true.
‘There’s so much out there and so many people to work with, and I went on to work with Naughty Boy after that, and I had so much fun. I’m like, okay, if you hear words like that coming out of my mouth, pay no attention, it’s not true, it’s just a feeling at the time.
‘If I wanted to retire, my babies are growing up – my son’s 21, my daughter’s 13 – so what am I going to do? Sit at home and twiddle my thumbs?
‘My first love after my kids is my music, and that’s what’s going to keep me going long after they’ve forgotten me – my kids that is.’ She giggles. ‘They’ll kill me if they see that.’
She’s also worked with Paul Weller, who is ‘super-hot’ and ‘really down to earth,’ apparently, as well as Al Green, and won multiple awards during her career.
‘I’ll sit back one day when I’m an old biddy and look back and these things I got to do in my lifetime – making music, meeting Nelson Mandela. I can look back and reflect on in my private moments, and think it’s not been a bad life for a working class girl born in east London. I’m having fun.’
Among her awards, the Ivor Novello she won in 2008 for her Outstanding Song Collection is what she is most proud of.
‘I was in shock, because for years and year I’d been nominated but never actually won.
‘It was very prestigious, there’s things like the Mercury and all those different prizes – I’ve got two Brits and couple of Mobos and a few others, and they’re great, but for me as a songwriter I’d always thought secretly, I’d love one of those.
‘To actually get one for an outstanding body of work, it was such an honour just to be there, I am really chuffed with that.
‘You’ve got to remember when I first came on the scene with the eyepatch, I think it deflected, or distracted people from the fact that I am a singer-songwriter. Some people just looked at the eyepatch as a gimmick, and then it’s been recognised over the years that I am a songwriter, so it’s a lovely accolade to have.
‘Any award that’s given to me I’m chuffed with, but that one’s special.’
She is now writing again too.
‘I’m due to go back into the studio. The idea is to bring out another record, but I want it to be the right record.
‘I’m talking to people and going in with writers. It’s always scary as I was used to writing with certain people for years, but when you come out of your comfort zone to write with people you’ve heard of and you know they’re great, but to actually go into a room with them... it’s quite daunting.
‘As to what’s going to happen, if we’ll connect, if it will work, who knows, but it’s exciting.
‘If I feel it talks to me, then we’re good to go.
‘But because I’m influenced by so many kinds of vibes, I can’t say what the record is going to be like, it’s just Gabrielle. It’s going to be classic Gabrielle with a few new vibes thrown in.’
n An Evening With Gabrielle is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Tuesday, November 15. Doors 7pm, Tickets £28 to £33.50.