'90s - Julia Fordham (2002)
‘The Fordham Guide to Lovemaking: Step 1 - Music’
One time member of Mari Wilson's backing troupe the Wilsations, English songbird Julia Fordham finally realized her solo potential on her self-titled 1988 debut album. Her first step into the limelight contained four singles with both ‘Happy Ever After’ and ‘Where Does the Time Go’ becoming her first ‘hit’ singles in the UK.
The following year brought Porcelian to the fore and now everyone was interested in listening to Fordham's smoky jazz bar, low dulcet voice. With standout tracks including ‘Lock and Key’ the album did the rounds before 1991’s Swept was unleashed. This album included the excellent ‘I Thought it Was You,’ but for one reason or another Fordham was quickly finding her singles too classy for mainstream radio play and so it stalled.
Re-locating to the States in the mid-nineties, Fordham began work on her fourth album with Larry Klein, then husband and producer of Joni Mitchell. Falling Forward became another slice of technical accomplishment in 1996 and featured the single ‘Can't Help Myself,’ but all was still not well for Fordham and the American market.
For the 1997 East West album cover, Virgin Records decided to place Fordham in the most American of things - a yellow cab. Released only in the States, it soon encountered the same fate as previous efforts to crack the market, but a wonderful greatest hits compilation released in 1999 (Collection) included updated versions of ‘Happy Ever After,’ ‘Where Does the Time Go’ and ‘Killing Me Slowly’ from East West to name but a few.
Fordham teamed up with ex-husband/producer Larry Klein once again during the new millennium and a new deal with Vanguard Records prevailed in time for the 2002 release of Julia Fordham's sixth studio album, Concrete Love.
Joining Julia backstage in a dressing room who’s smell could be best described as a cross between a London Underground bathroom and a 25c Peep-Show Booth, it’s immediately clear that the lady is already suffering. Reaching deep into her bag of homeopathic trials and tribulations, she quickly emerges with a small bottle to hand. Squeezing two drips of the dark mixture into her mouth, she turns her head up to face me. ”It’s Colloidal Silver,” she announces. ”I have this homeopathic, chiropractic, acupuncture lady in Los Angeles and I phoned her from New York when I had the plague that the guitar player spread around the band. She told me I had to get some things and it turned into this unbelievable crazy thing to find an alternative medicine lady in New York to give me all this stuff,” she gestures toward her pic-n-mix bag of medicine. ”And let me tell you that I have felt absolutely no benefit, but I keep religiously taking it so I’m hoping that something’s gonna change soon !”
Sitting down alongside the beautiful British songstress, gifts from her fans adorning her feet in the same manner gold would have been proffered to an Egyptian God – one of them made from material that if it had come from the hide of an animal would surely have been mercifully put down at birth – her manager brings her the latest magazine to feature her. ‘Women Who Rock’ is flipped through and once the article is found the exclamations come quick. “Oh, my God. Goodness. Oh my God. Look how cute. Ahhh, there’s India. And they totally put it all accurate too. Fantastic. I’m very happy with my debut appearance in ‘Women Who Rock’ on page 41 with Michelle Branch on the front cover,” she finally announces into the recording device.
Why the five year gap between East West and Concrete Love ? ”Well, you see, there wasn’t really because there was five years between the East West (1997) album and the Concrete Love (2002) studio albums, but The Collection (1999) record I put a lot of work into also. I didn’t just do a compilation that was just easy to do. I did a survey that I sent out to friends, fans and family, because I’m not known necessarily for the hits, but there are songs that people like that have little treasures to them and I didn’t want to put the wrong things on it. So, I took ages doing it and I recorded two new songs and I did two remixes and I rewrote the middle of ‘Happy Ever After.’ So, for me it felt like a whole record and that also took me to the conclusion of my record deal with Virgin so then I had to start again. So, I had to do the songs, go out and meet the record companies, do the gigs and by the time we’d done that suddenly five years have gone by !” I felt that there was no time off and I feel like I haven’t had a day off since ‘Happy Ever After’ … and I’d like one, please Russell. And I’d like to see what you can do about that ! Wield your influence please here in Ferndale !”
Why was the album entitled Concrete Love ? ”Well, I didn’t want to call it Concrete Love, but I didn’t think that there was anything better and I felt that there was a lot of love in the album. And then the India Arie thing came and it just sort of felt like it was all ‘concrete love.’ I’d actually decided to call it Concrete Love before the India.Arie experience, but it felt like that no one’s used the word ‘concrete’ before. A lot of people say ‘solid love’ and I just thought that it had an original twist to it and people liked it.”
If not Concrete Love, then what ? ”Ahh, good question. We nearly called it ‘Something Right,’ ‘Distant Light,’ ‘Love’ and I was gonna call it ‘Venus’ at one point, but Gillette had the lady razors so that had to go. So, there were lots of different options.”
Has the work and energy that went into making the debut Porcelian changed nearly fifteen years on for Concrete Love ? ”That’s another good one. No, not really, because I wish I could be a little bit less engrossed in everything, but I just can’t. I think if you sort of get married and have kids that happens, because you get distracted but I’ve always sort of been married to the music and I just feel that that’s my mission in life. So, it’s still exactly the same. All the songs came in the same way, I wrote the music and words together that come along, I picked up the guitar and made the demos and then I do the record. This one had even more work in it because I was so bored of myself after the ‘Best of …’ that I need to make changes and I thought that I’m quite lonely and isolated and I need to interact with people. So I actually did a ton of co-writing, threw a lot of those songs out and predominately ended up writing most of this record myself. But still had the experience of doing these demos, doing different sounds, and putting so much pre-production into this record that it was crazy !”
How did the India.Arie collaboration come about ? ”My track was completely done and she had an advance copy of the CD and she fell in love with it and played it in her car. And she even worked out that part and so after I heard her sing that at my house – which she did as we had this little tea party for her when she won her Grammy’s – she asked me to sing the song and then sang this unbelievable thing to go along with it. I then asked her if she’d record it and she said of course !”
It’s at this point in the interview that we break for the first time for Julia to scoop down a few spoonfuls of Lentil soup, but the talking is not sidetracked for a moment. In fact, we tangentially discuss our personal lives for a brief second, and the sometimes emptiness that strolls beligereantly though it, and before you can blink an eye Julia’s next words seem to encircle the room in the most seductive of manners. ”The sound guy is my boyfriend, but, if he wasn’t ….. hello ! I think maybe,” she nods inciting that both her and I could maybe have had a little something there for the exploring ! ”We could have a little cup of tea together and we could have a lovely, flirty little time,” she continues, as she finishes her Lentil soup for the moment. A little taken aback and yet strangely aroused at the same time, I readdress the line of questioning for the sake of her boyfriend.
What is your musical affiliation with Minnie Riperton ? ”I used to love Minnie Ripperton’s ‘Loving You’ and my little friend Claire Manning - when she got her first boyfriend aged 13 - used to play that song over and over again and I used to go ‘Oh, my God, I can sing along to it !’ I just thought she was very blinding and very unique, and a very unusual talent. And I always did that song as my little party piece in the set and by amazing coincidence I met the guy who wrote ‘Loving You’ as I was making the Concrete Love album ! Is that not the freakiest thing ?! He then told me about Minnie and it turned out that he was married to her and had two kids with her, which I had no idea. I was so moved by our little encounter that I wrote the song ‘Roadside Angel’ about her and him and it’s about their whole love and life together.”
Why did it take until this album to actually record the song though ? ”Well, it was a B-side. It was like a collector’s item so all my sort of lovely hardcore on-the-internet fans and all the people that know I do it live, they all got it anyway. But now, its out there for everyone to enjoy,’ she smiles before breaking once more for some more Lentil soup.
Now dipping into her lentil soup like a woman possessed, she chugs a few spoonfuls down before announcing she’s ready for part three of the interview.
Describe in just one word your feelings at the time you recorded these songs:
‘Happy Ever After’ - ”Contemplative”
‘Porcelain’ - ”Excited”
‘Falling Forward’ - ”Optimistic”
‘I Thought It Was You’ - ”Tired”
‘Love Moves (In Mysterious Ways)’ - ”Sessiony”
‘Italy’ - ”Waiter”
Do you have a passion for Italy ? ”I do have a passion for Italy. I went there and even though it was raining all the time I just think it’s the most seductive and romantic place and it looks so beautiful.”
You recently went from an Artist Visa to a Green Card. Has this brought you any recognizable differences ? ”That’s very true. I was here for many years on the Artist Visa and then I was worried that if I kept applying as an artist that one day they might say no ! Because you have to be a person of exceptional talent and then you if you have a Green Card as an artist you have to be a person of extraordinary talent. So, I keep flaunting it at my sister every time that she’s annoying me, because I live with her ! But, yes, it changes everything because now I don’t have to queue up with all the other English people coming off the plane.”
What’s been your most embarrassing experience in life ? ”I’m gonna have to go with when I was a young kid and I used to be in this little dance class and because I was actually quite good they had these older girls which they called ‘The Big Girls’ which I always thought was really funny because it only meant that they had bosoms ! I was allowed to join ‘the big girls’ for the special finale dance at this local thing and I was really nervous and I was waiting to be called over – and this is soooo horribly true - and we used to have on these maroon-colored leotards and these little tan-colored fishnet tights and I’ve got these braces on my teeth. And I was biting my knee because I was nervous and I actually got my braces in my mouth attached to my own knee. And so in the end I had to put my whole fist down my throat and flip under the plate and get the whole thing out. And when I finally did there was like blood, sweat, tears and saliva all over my knee and this fully-fledged plate of wire sat on my knee. But, funnily enough I did know it was funny even though it was awful and everyone was pointing and laughing ! I just knew how funny it was and so I just laughed !”
What do you think to the MTV show, ‘The Osbournes’ ? ”You see, I don’t understand what’s funny about it, because I don’t like to see people in distress. I’ve seen it with a group of people and when everyone’s laughing and pointing at him I feel bad for him and I want to adopt him and take him home. I don’t ever watch any of those shows where they play pranks on people and are mean to people. I can’t bear to see people in distress and I feel the same thing with Ozzy. There’s something kind of ugly about the whole thing, but I seem to be completely alone in this opinion. I just find it so fascinating and so completely tragic at the same time.”
Tell me about the feeling you experienced when your first single ‘Porcelain’ was being created ”It’s all coming back to me. I wasn’t in the studio. I was in a cab and I’m writing that song. I was very excited, because I knew I was really on to something. I remember I raced up the stairs into my little flat at the bottom of Kensington High Street and I was so excited. I was very excited !”
Any day-to-day fears ? ”Some days I do wonder what it is I’m doing precisely and then other days I’m very clear: I just write songs and sing them and they seem to be very important to people … and I’m not very good at anything else ! Although, I do make a jolly good cup of tea and a most excellent egg mayonnaise sandwich, but that’s it for my skills !!!!”
Tell me more about your ‘Dream Book’ ”A couple of times, when I’ve had really incredibly strong, potent images in dreams I’ve written them down. But it’s only been on a few occasions and it was a while back.”
What do you say to the people that are making love to you CDs ? ”I’m very, very happy and delighted to hear about people shagging away to any of my albums. I think it’s wonderful because for me that’s a kind of validation that there’s something that’s sort of intrinsically seductive and sexual to what I’m doing. I don’t like blatant sexuality, like the guys went to a strip bar last night, but I think if there’s something about a subtle sensuality that can be really evocative then I’m actually really touched by people’s comments.”
Finally, please sum up your career to date ”I think I’m an unusual artist in that I’ve managed to sustain a career in a fickle business. So even though I’ve not actually been a huge mainstream household name smash sensation, I’ve somehow managed to survive rather graciously out on the periphery. So, I’ve sort of been a little like under the radar and the little toe in something that just registers on people but doesn’t completely bamboozle them. Somehow I’ve been able to have this long musical life because people have absolutely treasured the music that I’ve done and I think that’s the difference between doing a huge hit. I think that I’ve been taken into people’s lives and I’ve got people willing to queue up for a really long time to tell me very sincere and sweet stories. So I think I’ve had an unusual arc and sometimes I have fleeting moments of frustration and I think I’ve got this huge voice and all these beautiful songs that people seem to love, so why aren’t I ‘this person’ or ‘like that person.’ But then most of the time I’m like ‘don’t forget you’ve got the best of everything: you’re critically acclaimed, you have a wonderful, simple life and nobody cares what your up to but people always buy the albums, always pack the shows and you’ve always been supported by the press.’ And I don’t think that it will ever get any better than that !”
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk