I Can See Your Voice's Portsmouth star Amba Tremain: 'Music is my life' | Big Interview
When Amba Tremain appeared on an episode of the hit BBC1 show I Can See Your Voice earlier this month, she put her phone down so she could enjoy watching it with her husband and son.
The episode had been recorded last autumn, so Amba hadn't seen the finished product either. The show asks a pair of contestants – aided and abetted by a panel of celebrities – to pick a good singer from six potential vocalists, if they’re successful they win £10,000. The catch being they only get to see the vocalists lip-sync and hear about their lives before they have to make their choice.
Amba was invited to appear as one of the ‘good’ singers after producers came across her regular livestreams.
When she picked up her phone, she recalls with a laugh: ‘My phone had nearly melted!
‘I didn't look at my phone for about an hour and when I picked it up again it took me two days to get through all of the messages.
‘I struggled to keep up with it, it was insane – so many lovely, incredible messages.’
As a solo artist, member of numerous bands, as well as being the co-founder of the award-winning Urban Vocal Group, Amba is a well-known figure on the local music scene.
But this wasn’t her first brush with primetime TV – 20 years ago she son the ITV talent show, This Is My Moment.
‘When I did This Is Your Moment, we didn't even have YouTube – if you didn't tune in that, you didn't see it.
‘I only put my own little clip from that show up last year because it was never on there before that.
‘It was a very different experience this time, but it was lovely, and great to be overwhelmed with so much support.
‘I really thank Portsmouth – no matter what, they're always behind me.’
With online trolls being a sad reality of life for anyone who dares to put themselves out there, the BBC made sure people appearing on the show were prepared.
‘We had three or four meetings just about social media, just about what we need to do to prepare ourselves for things like that, because it doesn't matter if 95 per cent of the people are celebrating, the five percent who are leaving negative comments are the ones you remember the most.
‘As a performer and someone who is constantly putting themselves out there, you kind of get used to that, or the prospect of people spreading negativity.
‘I was watching the comments, but if someone from Portsmouth does something cool, or puts Portsmouth on the map, it doesn't matter who you are, everyone champions them - we've got that real Pompey spirit.
‘Maybe I'm super-naive, and I see everything through Pompey-tinted glasses,’ she laughs.
One of six sisters, who have all been involved in the music business to some extent, music has always been part of her life. And for someone who lives to perform, the past year has been one of ‘extreme highs and extreme lows’ for Amba.
As a freelance lecturer and vocal tutor for WaterBear College of Music, which is based in Brighton, she’s been able to keep money coming in.
‘We had to switch it up and refocus some of the modules, but online, all of the students adjusted so well, and got really stuck into Zoom.
‘I hosted online open mic nights, and that really helped me grasp the online model of working which was great.
‘It is one of the coolest places. I will do anything that's ever needed for WaterBear because I started there when it was a start-up college and it's just grown and grown. We have the most incredible support and scholarships coming through from amazing bands like Royal Blood.’
While she’s regularly put on livestream gigs from her Havant home over the past year, Amba admits she's really missed performing in front of an audience.
‘I hadn't realised how much I relied on that, and how much I needed it for my own mental health.
‘There's a reason why I do all of that, and the reason is it feels great to be singing and to see people enjoying themselves and to see the kids singing and that stuff, so it was a bit of a culture shock when everything was stripped away.
‘But it is my bread and butter and I'm really, so grateful to be able to earn a living doing that. It's been a weird one to adjust to. Music is my life – it's who I am – I hadn't realised it was, but it is.
‘For a long, long time, I was playing in function bands, traveling all over the country for weddings and private dos. In 2018 I decided to step back from the traveling and the function agency sort of stuff and I wanted to play local for a bit. I just wanted to do gigs 20 minutes from my door, because I felt like it was the right time to chill out a little bit.
‘Although I took on so much locally, it was so I could be home more. It worked out well.‘I've had a great couple of years, where I've done some nice local stuff, but I'm ready to push myself further afield now.’
And if you need a measure of how much Amba lives for music, as well as performing solo she is also in five bands, helps run UVG and has various other projects on the go. As the prospect of actual gigs returns, co-ordinating all of those rehearsals and live dates is a bit of a headache.
‘I'm actually staring at a spreadsheet right now – I've just spent two hours trying to co-ordinate everything!’
Her newest band is actually a bit of a departure for Amba – known best for soul, R&B and funk, Rokket embraces a heavier sound.
‘When I go out and sing solo at a restaurant or bar, I know my audience and the type of stuff they want to hear, but sometimes that can really box you in.
When I started working at WaterBear, in the first term of that first year, we had no singers on the course, so when we were learning material I needed to step up and sing for those students.
‘They were learning were things like Led Zeppelin, Lenny Kravitz, Audioslave – much heavier than I'd ever done. It was because of standing in that I found a new area of my voice that I really love, but it didn't fit in with anything else I was doing, or what people knew me for. So I said, let's do something self-indulgent for fun with my mates, so we can make a noise and entertain ourselves.
‘Like all the bands do, they grow and you get excited, and it was like, ooh, perhaps we should do something with this? It's heavy and loud and like nothing you've heard me do before. I maintain with the rock stuff, it's rock with soul – nice and big and powerful.’
The past year or so has also seen Amba finally releasing original material under her own name for the first time.
‘I've spent a long time writing with my sister Leonie and our guitarist Andy Dixon, for years and years now.
‘I always had a place in the puzzle when it came for writing material for my sister to sing, I was the melody person, or I would come up with some concepts or some ideas for lyrics and stuff, but had never really considered it as an option for myself until I started a masters degree when I started at WaterBear.
‘I was so inspired by the learning process, it made sense for me to do the final project on something original, something of my own, and it led me down this rabbit hole.
‘Before I knew it, songs were just coming out and it felt very different to write stuff for myself. Sometimes when we write music we have to consider things like the brief, or who it's for... so we had to work to lots of guidelines before, and suddenly I was free.
‘I started writing some music, and I posted one video on my Facebook channel. A lovely girl called Jess Turner from Sofar Sounds messaged me to and said: “You need to apply for Sofar Sounds”. I said: “But I don't have any other music!” So she said: “Write some more!” Just putting me forward for that opportunity kicked me up the bum a little bit – if you want to make music, what's stopping you?
‘I was speaking to (UVG co-founder) Charlie Fletcher yesterday and we were going through some stuff and he said: “You've spent a long time working for, writing and helping other people, in the nicest possible way, maybe now it's time doing it for yourself”.
‘I love writing and mentoring and working with others, but there's this amazing feeling when you you finally take the leap yourself.
‘It felt like I had 10-15 years worth of songs ready to pour out of me. I've got 20 songs now and I'm champing at the bit to get an album done.’
To that end, Amba has a white board in her kitchen with the next year mapped out for the originals project and will be drawing on her wide array of musical friends to help out.
‘I woke up one day and it was: right, this is you, you're the DIY artist – get a plan together. I put together a timeline – these goalposts can always move, but my plan is to release four or five singles this year and then at the end of the year I put an album out.’
She’s also looking forward to getting UVG back together. The community-project has won several awards for its work with encouraging young people to get into music, including a Special Achievement from our own Guide Awards.
’Like so many organisations, everyone tried to keep the morale up, just like we did, we offered weekly online stuff, but it wasn't necessarily about the singing – it's the community spirit and connection that people missed too. A lot of people did drift off and we all had to check in on everyone and make sure everyone was okay.
‘We have been announced as playing at Victorious and the group is on track to get back together the moment we're allowed to.
‘We're desperate to get together and there's a lot of excitement buzzing around again.’
‘I think there'll be tears the first time we’re on stage again.’
Amba is also contributing a song to a fundriasing tribute album in memory of Porsche McGregor-Sims who died last April aged 27, just two weeks after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
The album, Your Face Is An Album is due out next month with all money raised from it going to Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust.
‘It highlighted how short life and you can't take anything for granted. (Porsche’s mum) Fiona asked me if I would sing at her funeral and I was only too honoured to do that.
‘I've got the perfect song for the album and I want to give that to them, I'm really honoured to be part of that, but it's one of the saddest things I've witnessed.
‘It's not just the old and the frail, sometimes it's the young, vibrant people who are affected.’
Looking ahead, Amba has more than 20 gigs lined up between the end of the year with her bands or solo, including an original material show at one of Portsmouth Guildhall Studio’s Cabaret Club nights on September 10.
I'm really looking forward to doing the local gigs again, things like The Queens Hotel and The Gaiety Bar – just because I'm looking forward to seeing familiar faces out in the crowd. Already I can see people tagging friends in things: “Shall we have a girls day out?”
‘It's going to be so nice seeing people I haven't seen in so long right in front of me, which I think will be incredible.’
For more information on live dates and Amba’s music, go to ambatremainmusic.com/tour.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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